Downton Abbey star Samantha Bond is back on ITV in a second season of Home Fires.
Samantha Bond plays Frances, the heart and soul of Great Paxford’s WI and the village community. Formidably intelligent and with a strong entrepreneurial drive, she can’t help but dominate any forum. She’s a great woman to have in your corner, but a terrible opponent. Having wrestled with Joyce for control in Season 1, the new incarnation of the WI under Frances’ leadership is thriving. Whilst her emphasis on honesty and loyalty haven’t waivered, she has mellowed and become more democratic in her leanings.
The Barden household is a happy one, and Frances’ marriage to Peter a stable one of equals. But all that changes in Season 2, when Frances is forced to confront the fact that her happily ordered life isn’t quite what she thinks it is.
Season 2 is currently airing at 9pm on Sunday nights on ITV.
Here Samantha Bond chats about what’s coming up…
The first season of Home Fires attracted an average audience of 6.2 million viewers. How did the cast feel about that success?
“We’d had such an absolutely glorious time making it and we just kept praying that sort of enthusiasm and love for these women would somehow translate into people’s living rooms. We were over the moon so many people liked Home Fires and thrilled to get a second series.
“I think what appealed to everyone is an entire village of vibrant and different women all with their own stories. In series one you had to get to know all of us. And there’s a lot of us. Now that you do know us, series two really does hit the ground running.”
How would you say the series has evolved and developed?
“Knowing who everyone is becomes a very important shorthand. For example, the moment you see Pat (Claire Rushbrook), you know exactly her story so far. I think the nation took Pat to their hearts. What our writer Simon Block has done so cleverly is take a situation and twist it in such an unexpected way.
“When we did the script read-through for episodes one to three in this second series there were so many gasps. And laughter. Then we got to the end of episode three and half the table was in tears. A lot of it is an emotional rollercoaster for many of the women.”
It’s June 1940 when we return to Great Paxford. How have things changed?
“The fear of invasion is now very real. There is no panic. But the English Channel is just 21 miles across. That’s nothing for a fleet of German boats.
“The aeroplanes fly over the village on a regular basis. You feel the terror felt by the community and it really pulls at the heart.
“The other big thing that has made the war very immediate for the village is the arrival of Czech soldiers, based nearby having fought their way across Europe, which really brings the war home. It’s there on your doorstep. People need looking after, feeding and comfort.”
At a church service to silence the bells, Frances’s sister Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) says, ‘Next time we’ll hear these bells for invasion or victory. We don’t know which.’ How was that to film?
“And they really didn’t know whether it would be for invasion or victory. It’s the most beautiful performance from Ruth. It’s just stunning. I was sitting on the front pew, trying to be the grown-up big sister, sending your little sister waves of support. And I just kept crying. We were all in pieces.
“Also a lot of the women sitting in that church have men who are away. The vicar – Sarah’s husband Adam (Mark Bonnar) – is away. Big Stan (Chris Coghill) is away fighting. We don’t know where David Brindsley (Will Attenborough) is. The whole village is feeling it. That sense of loss.”
Does the WI still feature in this season?
“It does but it’s less prominent in series two. In series one the WI was a means to get to know everyone. It showed you friendships and support networks, all of which are still there.”
Frances’s husband Peter (Anthony Calf) is still busy at his factory, now helping the war effort. How would your describe their marriage?
“Their marriage is rock solid. Very happy. She’s always known that he works very hard and spends many nights away at the factory in Liverpool. Now he is involved with the war effort, making parachutes. They are childless but are very happy.”
Frances’s housemaid Claire (Daisy Badger) has a surprise in store for her employer?
“At the start of the second series Claire and Spencer (Mike Noble) go off and get married without telling anyone. Someone finds out, tries to spoil their homecoming and thinks Mrs Barden is going to be cross with Claire. And, of course, Mrs Barden adores Claire, has watched her relationship with Spencer develop and would never be cross with her.”
What would you say about the issues Home Fires has to say to an audience?
“It’s a great advert for community and helping each other. I think that’s its big appeal. I truly do. It’s that sense of community and looking out for one another that we’ve very much lost nowadays, particularly in the bigger cities and towns. I do think there is a huge longing for that.”
What has it been like reuniting with the cast?
“It was absolutely glorious. I’m afraid we are appallingly happy and we relish each other’s company on set and off. I can’t remember ever having been in a company so happy and so funny and so full of love. All immensely supportive of one another. I adore them. And our men. All brilliantly written by a man. Simon Block has done a fantastic job.”
How would you sum up Frances’s journey in this season?
“She goes through a mangle, really. The whole series, for her, is an emotional rollercoaster. At the beginning of episode one she could never have imagined the emotions that would be called on.”
Are you enjoying the return of Home Fires? Let us know below…