September 2009 is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and the media have been all over it like a rash. Not to be outdone, the BBC has produced a five-part drama called Land Girls starring Nathaniel Parker, Mark Benton, Summer Strallen and Sophie Ward. During the war, Britain was blockaded by the Germans so food was strictly rationed – there were equal, but very small, portions for everyone. As much food as possible was grown at home and with the men away fighting, thousands of women were recruited to work on the farms.
My own mother often tells me about the miserable work she had to do in the fields as a teenage schoolgirl. Rather than concentrating on her studies, she and her friends often had to pick potatoes and other root crops. It was hard, cold, back-breaking work. People were tired, very hungry and frightened. By contrast, this drama seems to emphasise romance, dances, humour, high junks espionage but very little hard physical labour.
The series begins with two young city women going to work on a farm. One is from Coventry, a city almost totally obliterated by bombing in the war. She accepts the work while the other girl worries about her nice clothes and fancy hair style. The farm owners are a middle aged aristocratic couple. The farm manager is fat and jolly and is also stealing food for the black market. One of the girls becomes pregnant by an American soldier who turns out to be a real cad. Another gets the news her husband has been killed, while another husband has deserted.
Every stereotype is here. One problem with feel-good nostalgia is the lack of realism and that really ruined it for me. I wanted to really believe what I was watching but I just didn’t. The vintage cars looked like they are straight out of a museum (which they are) with not a speck of mud on them. The clothes may all be accurate to the period but they are all so clean and new looking. Where were the worn parts and patches of the 1940s make-do-and-mend generation?
My mother remembers well when American soldiers were stationed in her town. She also remembers that the white and black soldiers were strictly segregated – whites were allowed out on the town one night, the black soldiers went out on different nights. Otherwise, apparently, they would fight. (Ironic – it reminds me of that wonderful phrase from the film Dr Strangelove, ‘You can’t fight in here, this is the war room). In Land Girls, one girl invites a group of black soldiers to the dance at the Big House because she was told ‘everyone was welcome’. The black soldiers are suspicious but go along at her insistence only to be turned away at the door. None of this rings true. I think in those days, people would just accept the way things were. This is long before political correctness yet the producers are trying to shoehorn it into the 1940s.
Land Girls was shown in the very early evening for five consecutive days, possibly intended to be viewed by young people as a history lesson. Whatever the reason, none of it was believable. It was pleasant to see the vintage cars, the hair-styles and clothes but it was completely lacking in realism.
The real hardships of the war, the fears, the discomfort – all of that was abandoned for a heart-warming trip down memory lane. What a pity – more grit, fewer handsome actors and plenty of sweat and dirt would have done the job much better.