Marking the centenary of the First World War, BBC One’s The Passing Bells sees the conflict of the unfold through the eyes of two very ordinary young men.
The five-part series was filmed in Poland and is written by Tony Jordan (EastEnders, Hustle, Life on Mars).
Paddy Gibson (What Richard Did) and Jack Lowden (The Tunnel) star as Thomas and Michael, two young men for whom the war has little mercy, no matter which side they might be fighting for. Over five chronological years, The Passing Bells follows their lives, as they grow up, lose friends and find love amid the horrors of the war. Back home, their families and loved ones anxiously await news from the front.
The cast also includes Charles Furness, Brian Fletcher, Wilf Scolding, Hubert Burton, Felix Auer, Ben McGregor, Mark Burghagen and Matthew Aubrey.
Monday 3 November 2014, 7pm
Deep in the countryside, Michael and Katie are young and in love, as yet untouched by rumours of war. In a small town, delivery boy Thomas is equally oblivious to the rumblings of conflict coming from the continent. But as the news trickles through to their small communities, both boys are inspired by the thought of heroic deeds and foreign lands.
When war is announced, both Michael and Thomas defy their parents and slip out to the recruitment office, alongside thousands of other young men. As the boys don their uniforms, we see that Thomas is a British soldier and Michael is German. Each set of parents struggle to cope with their children’s deception. Rifts between their mothers and fathers cast a cloud over the boys’ final days at home.
Apprehensive of what lies ahead, Tommy and Michael set off for training. Michael makes friends easily with upright Freddie, scruffy Stefan, joker Lanzo and earnest Rudi, but that doesn’t stop him from missing Katie. Meanwhile, shy Tommy finds his niche with joker Cyril, gambling man Anthony, womanizer Kev and funny man Ben. But reality bites as the boys get their first taste of the trenches.
Tuesday 4 November 2014, 7pm
1915. Tommy is immersed in battle, fighting not only the enemy but also poison gas from his own side. He is rescued by an older soldier who is killed when he attempts to save another man. As the two sides rise to collect their wounded, Tommy is astonished to be helped by a German soldier.
On patrol in the occupied Eastern Front, Michael and his friends are ambushed by Russian soldiers and find themselves in hand to hand combat. Grappling with what he’s done, Michael returns home on leave. Despite his joy at marrying Katie, he struggles to reconcile his old family life with the terrible things he’s seen and done.
Tommy, meanwhile, is injured on the battlefield. Lucky to be alive, he recovers in an army hospital where he meets Joanna, a radiography assistant working in Marie Curie’s innovative mobile X-ray trucks. As his injuries heal, Thomas and Joanna fall in love. When he returns to the front line, he has another reason to fight for survival.
Wednesday 5 November 2014, 7pm
1916. The war reaches a stalemate, but both sides are fighting harder than ever. The boys’ hearts are elsewhere, but while Michael can only dream of his wife back home, lovelorn Tommy’s friends sign him up for stretcher-bearer duty and surprise him by arriving at the hospital where Joanna is working.
Back in the trenches, new recruits arrive. Tommy spots 16 year-old Derek amongst them. Recognising the young boy’s innocence and inexperience he takes Derek under his wing.
British and German troops mass at the Somme for what is heralded as the deciding battle of the war. In the German dugouts, Michael and Freddie endure six days and nights of terror as British shells destroy their trenches. In the horror of those seemingly endless days, Michael is Freddie’s rock, desperately assuring him that they’ll make it out of there alive, even as his own hope secretly dwindles.
As the shelling comes to an end and British soldiers go over the top, the tables are turned in the most horrifying way.
Thursday 6 November 2014, 7pm
1917. Thomas and Michael are haunted by memories of their dead friends, and with hindsight they are aghast at their initial optimism back in 1914. Thomas sinks towards despair, convinced that the war is never going to end. Although Derek tries to rally him, the impressionable boy takes Tommy’s words to heart.
When British soldiers breach the wire, Michael’s trench is attacked and he and Freddie are taken prisoner. Despite Freddie’s misgivings, Michael is determined to escape. Meanwhile Tommy talks his way onto the prisoner detail as a way of sneaking off to see Joanna at the hospital. In their stolen time together, Joanna reveals that she’s pregnant and they excitedly make plans for a future together.
When Tommy returns to the trenches, shell-shocked Derek runs into No Man’s Land, blinded to the dangers of desertion by his trauma. Tommy is forced to choose between his promise to Joanna to stay safe, and his loyalty to his friend.
Friday 7 November 2014, 7pm
1918. With their minds drifting ever more towards the memory of home, Tommy celebrates the birth of his son and Michael becomes increasingly dependent on his letters from Katie to keep going.
Rumours fly through both camps about impending peace. While politicians wrangle over terms and conditions, Michael and Tommy’s parents struggle to control their hope at the prospect of seeing their boys again. Although news spreads of the Kaiser’s abdication, the shelling continues on both sides. When a bomb takes out a barbed wire fence, Tommy once again values Derek’s safety above his own, volunteering to mend it in his friend’s place.
Tommy approaches the broken wire cautiously. As he reaches it, to his horror, he spots a German soldier on the other side of the gap: Michael. The boys stare at each other, horrified and paralysed with fear, before instinct takes over and they start to fight. As news of the Armistice Agreement travels up and down the trenches, Tommy and Michael, oblivious, fight on.
Watch the trailer…
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