World on Fire: From filming locations to full cast list, release date and trailer - Everything you need to know about BBC One’s epic World War II drama

Peter Bowker’s landmark new TV series stars Helen Hunt, Lesley Manville, Sean Bean, and more, and is set to become a major part of your autumn viewing. Here’s what we know so far.

World on Fire is an epic World War II drama that’s set to become a major part of your autumn TV viewing.

Premiering on BBC One later this year, the emotionally gripping, landmark TV series from Peter Bowker (The A Word) tells the story of ordinary people caught up in the Second World War.

Helen Hunt, Lesley Manville and Sean Bean lead the stellar, international cast, which also includes Blake Harrison, Jonah Hauer-King, Julia Brown and Yrsa Daley-Ward.

From what the show's about to the filming locations, the cast list, the release date, the first trailer, and much more, here’s everything we know about World on Fire on BBC One so far.

BT TV customers can watch World on Fire on Sunday nights on BBC One. Never miss an episode with the BBC iPlayer app - under Players & Apps on BT TV.

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When does World On Fire start on BBC One?

The epic drama series continues Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One.

Is there a trailer?

Yes, the BBC released a trailer for the show at the end of August 2019. You might have seen it on your TV box too, with the song Stronger Than Ever by Raleigh Ritchie playing in the background.

Who’s behind the camera?

World on Fire is written and created by multi-award winning writer Peter Bowker (The A Word, Eric and Ernie, Occupation, Blackpool). 

It’s produced by Mammoth Screen - which is part of ITV Studios - who produce other period dramas including Victoria, Poldark and Vanity Fair, so the script is certainly in safe hands.

World on Fire: What is new World War II drama about?

World On Fire is a heart-stopping, multi-stranded drama which tells the story of World War II through the lives of ordinary people from all sides of the global conflict.

It follows the first year of the Second World War told through the interlinked fates of ordinary people drawn from Britain, Poland, France, Germany and the United States as they grapple with the impact of the war on their everyday lives.

Creator Peter Bowker says: “World On Fire tells the hidden human stories within the big historical events we think we know. 

“From Harry, below, a young English translator in Warsaw caught up in negotiations with the Nazis and trying to smuggle his Polish lover Kasia out of the country, to Lois, the girl who is waiting for him at home, a young Mancunian factory worker who will come to take all the opportunities the war can offer to live a different kind of life. 

world on fire harry

“To Nancy, a female US war correspondent who can’t find peace unless her life is at risk, to the Rossler family in Berlin, worried for their soldier son and willing to do anything to protect their disabled daughter from the attentions of the ruling Nazi regime. 

“These are the stories of the ordinary people who shaped our world. Stories of loyalty and brutality, courage and fear, hopes, stories of love and loss, hopes and dreams forged in extraordinary times."

Adam Smith, who directs the opening two episodes of World on Fire, said the show is in no way a history lesson - but more a truthful account about how the war impacted real people, depicted in the TV drama format.

Explaining why he thinks people should watch, he told journalists at the show’s launch: "It doesn’t feel like there has been a big World War II drama like this for a long time, with stories told this way on British telly.

“There’s a lot of the younger generation who don’t know a lot about World War II because they don’t have that connection to it. 

“It’s important to learn these lessons and see what happens. It’s in no way a history lesson, it’s truthful and real.”

Actor Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Broken) agreed: “It’s not so much a war story as a montage of how it affected ordinary people in so many different countries. 

“It’s not a retelling of history, it’s a reflection of the effects of the brutality of war, and also the courage, friendship, and aspirations, of all these people from different countries, fighting against a common enemy.”

[World on Fire: Meet the cast and characters]

[What to watch on BT TV this month]

World on Fire: Is it based on real life stories from World War II?

Originally, it wasn’t known whether the characters’ storylines were based on real stories from the war, or purely fictional. We knew that the epic story, told on a human scale, includes historical moments, from the siege of Warsaw, to Dunkirk, the fall of Paris and the battle of Britain.

However speaking to the show’s creator Peter Bowker, we discovered that the storylines and characters in World on Fire are based on real people, going through real events that happened in World War II.

Bowker’s initial idea for the show came from an obsession with the landmark 1970s documentary series, The World at War, and he wondered whether you could do a drama that had the same scale and the same range of perspectives.

Then, he immersed himself in the research rooms at the Imperial War Museum, full of artefacts from the war, and academics with expertise in the subject.

peter bowker

He told journalists at the launch of the show: “They have diaries, and because of the Mass-Observation [which recorded everyday life in Britain] that went on at the time, a lot of people were encouraged to keep a diary about how they felt. So there’s a massive archive [that we used]. 

“So for instance, we have a character in the show who’s a young Polish woman, who’s a waitress. At the museum I asked ‘have you got any diaries about life in Warsaw at the time?’ and within a couple of days they found me two translated diaries of young women, one of whom was a waitress working in Warsaw. 

“What’s immensely reassuring about it is from a humanity point of view, there’d be the odd sentence of ‘I joined the resistance today. It’s being run by the local scout master’ but most of it would be about boys and coffee, finding good coffee, and girlfriends and boyfriends. 

“People’s concerns remained the same in the war. They may be exacerbated by the fact that they might be about to go to war, but the big events in our life, and our motivations, remain exactly the same.”

World on Fire: From Helen Hunt to Sean Bean - who's in the cast?

World on Fire has a truly international cast, with actors from across the UK and Europe and the US.

Oscar winner Helen Hunt, below (As Good As It Gets, Mad About You) leads the cast alongside Oscar-nominated and Olivier Award winning actress Lesley Manville (Mum, Phantom Thread), and Bafta-winning actor Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Broken).

Speaking about Helen Hunt playing American journalist Nancy Campbell, the show’s creator Peter Bowker said that she was ‘very, very forensic about the scripts’.

Of her commitment to the character, Bowker said: “[Helen’s] great, she’s forensic before the start. She’d ask ‘do I smoke?’ and I’d say ‘yeah I think maybe you could’ and she’d go ‘I’ll hand roll my cigarettes’.”

Lesley Manville was always at the ‘top of the list’ for the matriarch character of Robina Chase, Bowker said: “I didn’t think we’d get her, in fact there was a strong chance we wouldn’t get her. She’s just astonishing. I bored Lesley to death because all I ever did was tell her how great she was in [BBC Two sitcom] Mum.” 

And like Manville, Sean Bean was also ‘pretty much always’ the actor that Bowker had in mind for the role. 

Of casting Bean in the role of the troubled former soldier Douglas Bennett, Bowker said: “I knew I wanted to write somebody who had PTSD, or shell shock as it was known at the time. 

“I was interested in a character who you’re asking big questions of. I wanted somebody who we felt had immense power, and partly because Sean has that, and because of seeing him in Broken… his main concern when I rang him was that he didn’t die.”

helen hunt

They’re joined by rising British stars Jonah Hauer-King (Little Women, Howard’s End) and Julia Brown (The Last Kingdom, Shetland), alongside actress/poet Yrsa Daley-Ward (White Colour Black/Boxx) and Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners, A Very English Scandal).

Also in the stellar cast is award-winning Polish actress Zofia Wichłacz (Warsaw 44, Amok), Brian J. Smith (Sense8), Ewan Mitchell (The Last Kingdom), Parker Sawyers (Southside with You, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Tomasz Kot (Gods, Cold War), Bruno Alexander (Eden, Der Verlorene Bruder), Johannes Zeiler (Faust, Codename Holec) and Eugénie Derouand (Genius, Beatrice).

From Prague to Manchester - where is World on Fire filmed?

Filming began in Prague, Czech Republic, in October 2018,  and continued in Manchester, England.

Adam Smith, director of the first two episodes of World on Fire, confirmed that the show was filmed largely in Prague, Czech Republic - masquerading as Paris, Berlin and Warsaw. Any scenes set in the UK were filmed in Manchester.

Here are some behind-the-scenes pictures from filming in the Manchester area:

Of filming mostly in Prague, Smith said: “Prague was amazing to work in, with some fantastic locations. They were so varied and so different. We built a big set of Warsaw. We tried to get as much real locations as we could, then add CGI [computer-generated imagery] on top.”

Helen Ziegler, one of the show’s executive producers, said that the set team did an amazing job of replicating Warsaw - pre and post-bombing - in Prague.

She explained: “They’d found these incredible factory ruins, and then we built some of the Warsaw set beyond it, so you had these perfect streets, then as you told the story of [the war in] Warsaw, we pulled apart the set and destroyed it, and then revealed the ruins beyond. 

“It was such a clever way of showing that. You’d walk along this beautiful set and feel like you were there. 

“Warsaw was just the most incredible, vibrant, glamorous city in 1939, and we wanted to show that joy of the city before the war began.”

Does the European setting mean there’ll be subtitles?

Yes, there will be some subtitles for scenes that are set outside of England. Writer Peter Bowker told The Times that he was determined to avoid ‘war film clichés’, so when there are two foreign characters in one scene, they speak their native language rather than speaking English with an accent - or being dubbed.

He explained: “You wouldn’t be allowed to have subtitles at least 10 years ago. That wouldn’t have happened on a BBC One show, I don’t think.

“I knew I didn’t want those dramas where you have an English actor speaking English in a German accent. If we have two Polish characters in a room, they can speak Polish.”

Will there be more seasons of World on Fire?

Initially, we didn’t know for certain whether there would be a second series, or more, of World on Fire. We just had the series 1 description which suggested that future seasons of World of Fire would follow the later years of the war - so from September 1940 onwards. That description is as follows: 

“The first series of seven episodes tells the story of the first year of the war, starting with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ending with the Battle of Britain.”

At the launch of the show, creator Peter Bowker confirmed that there are plans to do more seasons of World on Fire. 

He explained: “The plan is to do a series for each year of the war. We’ve mapped out six seasons, for six years of the year, and what happens with these characters. Although there may be some fatalities with it being a war, but I’m not at liberty to say [who].”

Executive producer Helen Zielger added: “[By continuing with one series for one year of the war], we’re trying to connect those events in history, and really see the cause and effect of them, rather than thinking of these separate, huge moments. It tells the story of what it was like to live at the time.”

World on Fire continues Sundays at 9pm on BBC One. Catch up on BBC iPlayer - via the Players & Apps tab on BT TV.

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Images: BBC / Mammoth Screen

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