Big Finish released ATA Girl 2 for International Women’s Day, giving listeners two more compelling stories about the Air Transport Auxillary (ATA). For those who don’t know, the ATA were a group of 168 women pilots who ferried aircraft around the UK during World War II. This adds to the much praised 2018 release ATA Girl and one again Louise Jameson directs. Louise also wrote one of the stories, Helen Goldwyn the other. Louise and Helen also star. The stories are set near either end of the War.
Crime and Punishment
Helen Goldwyn’s The Hardest Day reminds the listener of the many strengths of both the series and the real women of the ATA. It all takes place on 18th August 1940 – a huge air raid threatens the air base the ATA needs to move aircraft fast. A lot of the story covers their successes and failures but also builds drama. We see the start of a mixed-race relationship (a big deal in the 1940s) between Rhiannon Geary (Elinor Lawless) and Gabriel King (Cory Chambers). We also learn how even in war, not everyone is at their best. Adversity and survival may be priorities, but people are still capable of being evil. In the midst of heroism, a horrific crime takes place, and looks to remain undiscovered. It’s difficult listening at times, but that’s because the events portrayed do happen in real life.
Helen’s story sets the pieces in play, but it’s for Louise to move them into position for the listener to find out just what happened.
Peace in our time?
Paris is liberated. It’s late December 1944, New Year’s Eve and the end of the war closer than ever before. It’s not all good news, with missing pilots, grief, and a celebration. Rhiannon is now involved with Henry Lloyd (Wilf Scolding) who announces their engagement at a New Year’s Eve party. Gabriel has reappeared much to Rhiannon’s disquiet. The scene is set for a love triangle, but the shadow of earlier crimes still hangs over events. Again. there is a no holds barred presentation of the brutality of men towards women, though none of it token. As the end of the war comes in sight, pieces come together and justice is done.
There’s a framing story set now about the making of a TV documentary on the ATA girls. It pulls things together but isn’t essential to the story being told barring reminding the present generation of the debt it owes the past. It does match the previous set, which also had a modern-day wrapper. The stories are as much about people, how they cope in war and the lines they might be prepared to cross. As ever the best stories need flawed characters and those in ATA Girl 2 fit the bill well. Some saintly, some the opposite and most somewhere in the middle, surviving. While the setting is historically fascinating, it really acts as a lens to magnify the mistreatment of women and doesn’t pretend it has all been consigned to history. The heroism of the women in question makes this all the more extreme.
Listening in today’s current global problem, we can also see ATA Girls 2 as a parable for our time. Things may be bad, but they will pass.
Philosophical musings aside, ATA Girl 2 is a many-layered release with drama, history and an unflinching look at human behaviour. Unlike other Big Finish releases, this is very much not suitable for younger listeners.
ATA Girl 2 is available now on download from the Big Finish site. It comes with a third disc of behind the scenes material.