Review The Resistance of Mrs Brown, Radio 4

“I never miss an opportunity to go unnoticed”

I love me some wartime drama especially when it involves the role of women, TV films like Housewife 49 and plays like The Firewatchers fill my heart with joy, and so the 15 minute drama for this week (formerly the Women’s Hour drama) fell very much into my field of interest, with an added twist of alternate history in the mix. Ed Harris’ The Resistance of Mrs Brown imagines a world where the British were defeated at Dunkirk and a Nazi Military Administration has been set up in London. Joan Brown works as a tea lady for the new powers-that-be and is determined to keep her head down, especially after the death of her husband, but when she advertises for a new lodger, she is contacted by the Resistance who want to use her unique position to help strike a blow against the Nazis.

Amanda Root’s delicate clipped tones make a beautifully unwilling heroine out of Mrs Brown, who is pushed along by the forthright Mrs Crace, a delightfully matter-of-fact Adjoa Andoh and Simon Bubb’s Wode who try their best to cajole her into going along with their plans, and using her as a narrator is an inspired choice by director Jonquil Panting as we’re constantly reminded of her reticent fragility which ends up responding beautifully to the challenges that are presented to her. Whether its her daughter, her boss or the men she serves tea to who come to know her a little, she is pulled one way or another until she finally gains the confidence to stand up for what she truly believes in and consequently makes decisions according to her own conscience.

Harris evokes a strange world which imagines what might have been, the decisions that we might have been faced as a conquered nation – whether to collaborate or not, whether to turn in family members and friends or whether to risk everything in the fight for liberty. And there is something still quite shocking in hearing names such as Sturmbannführer Smith and people saying Heil Hitler with an English accent that lends a powerful urgency to the piece. I still can’t imagine listening to these shows in 15 minute chunks when one can wait til the omnibus at the weekend and take it all in in one sitting but either way, this is one I’d recommend.

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