Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 7 September 2012
It's 1997, and three surviving Special Operations Agents - Vera Atkins (Stephanie Cole), John Harrison (David Jason), and Leo Marx (Anton Lesser) have been reunited for a television documentary. As they are called one by one for interview, they begin to talk to each other about their experiences, and as they do so, dark secrets about what actually happened during the war begin to emerge.
Philip Franks' production contrasted the mood of idealism at the start of Tony Blair's government with the pessimism and disillusion of the SOE executives. Although the documentary was designed to celebrate their achievements in securing victory for Britain over the Germans, none of them actually felt very heroic. On the contrary, they all felt responsible in some way for the death of Patricia, a fellow-agent who had been tortured and executed at the hands of the Gestapo.
As the drama unfolded, however, it became more and more evident that the agents' disillusion was nothing more than a smoke-screen, designed to cover up what actually happened to Patricia, and how one of the agents at least was directly responsible for her death. None of this emerged in the television documentary - which was likewise treated as a smokescreen designed to obfuscate rather than reveal the truth (in spite of the young researcher Chloe Wolf's (Sophie Roberts') protestations).
The play contrained three very strong performances. Jason's Harrison came across as a bluff, hearty person, still fond of the ladies in spite of his advanced age. However there seemed to be details about his life that he refused to discuss - for example, his mysterious disappearance from Britain after the war's end for nearly three decades. Cole's Vera Atkins was much more reserved, preferring to devote herself to her crossword rather than discussing the past. She appeared to be the least enthusiastic of the trio, in terms of wanting to do the documentary; but she revealed her true motives later on. Lesser's Marx considered himself a small cog in a very big wheel during wartime; the documentary provided him with a much-needed opportunity to make sense of his experiences.
This was a compelling piece with a genuinely unexpected ending. Well worth a listen.