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Evacuees, The (1975)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Evacuees, The (1975)
BBC, tx. 5/3/1975, colour, 75 mins
DirectorAlan Parker
Production CompanyBBC TV
ProducerMark Shivas
ScreenplayJack Rosenthal
CameramanBrian Tufano

Cast: Maureen Lipman (Sarah); Gary Carp (Danny); Steven Serember (Neville); Margery Mason (Mrs Graham); Ray Mort (Louis); Paul Besterman (Zuckerman)

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At the beginning of the Second World War, two Jewish brothers from Manchester are sent by their parents to live in Blackpool to escape the Nazi bombing raids, but their foster family proves to be wholly insensitive to their needs.

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Jack Rosenthal's The Evacuees was closely patterned after the experiences he and his brother shared when their parents sent them away from Manchester, supposedly out of harm's way. By turns tough and tender, the story never yields to the easy temptation of sentimental nostalgia, helped immeasurably by no-nonsense direction from Alan Parker, now moving into drama after several years shooting adverts.

A drama with strongly comic overtones, highlights include the sequence in which the schoolteacher shops his boys around Blackpool looking for foster parents, while the brothers' runaway attempt on roller skates, accompanied by the dramatic 'Devil's Gallop', theme tune of the then hugely popular radio thriller, Dick Barton, is hilarious.

The mixture of comedy and sadness is balanced perfectly in the scene in which the boys, too young and intimidated to properly explain why they are not allowed to eat pork, are forced by Mr and Mrs Graham to eat sausages. The foster parents are not intentionally cruel, merely insensitive and ignorant, displaying almost Victorian attitudes to child rearing. The scene brilliantly encapsulates the humour and humanism at the heart of Rosenthal's work.

The play bears repeated viewings for the richness of its detail and the symmetrical dovetailing of its plot. When the homesick Danny cries, his brother Neville slaps him to keep him quiet. Later, it is Neville who gets thumped when he cries, after sensing the strain that the separation is putting on their mother. The brothers get beaten up at the beach when Neville refuses to back down after their Mancunian accents are ridiculed, but at the end of the play, when Danny makes fun of a cockney evacuee from London, Neville separates them and makes the peace. The work also takes care to evoke the plight of Jews in Europe (of which the traumatised European arrival Wilhelm is a constant reminder), with the evacuated boys becoming, little by little, closer to refugees, sent to a cruel, unyielding, almost inexplicable exile.

Significantly, unwilling to provide a neat conclusion with easily labelled heroes and villains, the play does not end with the boys' return home. Instead it focuses on Mrs Graham's subsequent sense of loss and hurt, on the way that the brothers have changed and grown during their fifteen months away, and on the evolving, imperfect existence of the loving but always financially strapped Miller family.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Leaving home (4:22)
2. Sausages for tea (2:03)
3. Rollerskate runaways (2:29)
4. 'Business as usual' (3:02)
Carrie's War (1974)
Parker, Alan (1944-)
Rosenthal, Jack (1931-2004)
Tufano, Brian (1939-)
WWII Dramas