Outbreak Review: The Day Britain Stood Still

September 3, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

OUTBREAK: Thursday 3rd September, ITV1, 10:35pm Alert Me

On Sunday September 3rd 1939, the Prime Minister announced that we were at war with Germany – again.

For those who were listening to that wireless broadcast, life had changed forever and their memories seem as fresh as they were seventy years ago.

This hour-by-hour account of the fateful day conveys a real sense of the fear and doubt that swept across the country as that sunny afternoon wore on.

We hear from a plethora of veterans; among them Richard Attenborough who recounts his job as a junior ARP messenger and Vera Lynn who admitted that when the news came through her first thought was, “that’s the end of my singing career?.

Similar foresight was shown by the man who predicted the war would be over in a year.

As ever, things in London got moving pretty quickly and within half an hour of war being declared, the air-raid sirens were wailing and residents were heading for shelter – mercifully it was a false alarm, but it served as a nasty taste of the world that was about to engulf the capital.

Tragically before midnight, the war had racked up its first fatalities as an enthusiastic Germans submarine torpedoed the Athenia, a passenger ship heading for Canada.

It’s not just old folks from the UK who share their experiences, we meet people who had heard the news in Poland, France and Germany. Unsurprisingly most of them recognised it as the very bad news it was.

However this is more than a war programme, it is a piece of television which attempts to capture that moment in 1939 when the planet changed forever, and it does this very effectively.

We feel the sombre mood and understand when a woman tells us that despite the glorious weather, there was a dark cloud hanging over the nation. This was not 1914, when men rushed to sign up unaware of the horrors which awaited them – this time the people were under no illusions.

An important tribute to a turning point in modern history.

Sean Marland