Tag Archives: Patrick Holland

Welcome to Windermere

The previously untold story of how hundreds of children came to the UK from concentration camps at the end of the Second World War is dramatised in The Windermere Children, a stark and poignant film commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In the summer of 1945, following the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust, hundreds of orphaned Jewish refugees started new lives in the picturesque surroundings of England’s Lake District.

When the Nazi concentration camps were liberated at the end of the six-year conflict, the survivors included many Jewish children who had been separated from their families and lived through the horrendous conditions they were confronted with.

On August 14, 1945, 300 young people – of a variety of ages and backgrounds – were brought from Prague via RAF aircraft to the Calgarth Estate beside Lake Windermere, where these children would spend four months together. In total, more than 700 young Jewish refugees came to England after the war.

This remarkable story is now the focus of a single drama commissioned by BBC2 in the UK and Germany’s ZDF, which airs today to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Windermere Children tells the true story of young Jewish refugees who came to the Lake District at the end of the Second World War

The 90-minute film opens when a coach full of quiet, nervous children arrives at the former factory accommodation that would become their temporary home.

Carrying only a few small possessions and the clothes on their back, they are initially hesitant about what awaits them as they are asked to line up and hand over their belongings – a process echoing their time in the camps. The subsequent sight of their own bedrooms and plentiful baskets of fresh bread is initially overwhelming.

What transpires is a story of hope and survival as a team of counsellors try to help the children come to terms with their horrifying experiences and reclaim their lives. Together, they learn English, ride bikes and play football, while revolutionary art therapy sessions reveal some of their darkest nightmares – an element fully realised by the haunting screams that fill their dormitories each evening.

“I’d heard of The Windermere Children story before but I’d never understood the importance or the audacity of the undertaking or just what a life-changing event this was,” says Patrick Holland, controller of BBC2.

“Taking hundreds of children who had experienced the very worst of humanity is capable of and using the bucolic setting of the Lakes to help restart and reset what life could be felt like a work of fiction. But it was clear this transformative story demanded to be told.

As sports coach Jock Lawrence, Game of Thrones star Iain Glen (right) is among those playing the real-life counsellors

“The Windermere Children explores the ability to start again in the darkest of times. It shows the profound positive impact one group of people had on the lives of others. It celebrates a nation welcoming the most vulnerable and allowing them to thrive.”

Writer Simon Block didn’t know the story, but was approached by producer Wall to Wall with the idea of bringing it to the screen. He says the way into the story became clear after meeting some of the real-life Windermere Children, the majority of whom were boys, and speaking to historians and researchers about what took place over those four months in 1945. Advisors included Trevor Avery and Rose Smith of the Lake District Holocaust Museum and the 45 Aid Society.

‘It was then a question of processing all that information and making sure we had a skeleton of a good story,” Block says. “However much information you have of a story that happened in real life, it still has to have the shape of a drama – but you don’t want to bend the facts to the shape. There was quite a lot of reworking to make sure we were accurate but also telling a compelling story.”

The story is led by powerful performances from young actors Marek Wroblewski (Sam Laskier), Kaceper Šwiętek (Chaim Olmer), Kuba Sprenger (Ike Alterman), Pascal Fischer (Ben Helfgott) and Jakub Jankiewicz (Salek), who all play real survivors who were brought to Windermere.

They are supported by a cast of actors also playing real people. Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) is child psychologist Oscar Friedmann, Romola Garai (The Miniaturist) plays art therapist Marie Paneth, Tim McInnery (Strangers) is philanthropist Leonard Montefiore and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) takes the field as sports coach Jock Lawrence.

Tim McInnery plays philanthropist Leonard Montefiore

Garai, whose father’s family emigrated to the UK from Hungary before the war, describes Paneth as a “really incredible person.” She continues: “She developed art therapy and play therapy and had worked originally with children affected by the Blitz, and that was how she was drawn into the project.

“What the film really describes brilliantly and interestingly is the understanding that people came up against the greatest tragedy of all human history and found themselves maybe not quite prepared for that. They had all these wonderful intentions but the tsunami of suffering was something I don’t think they were ready for.

“People didn’t really know what they were doing except that they understood the human experience had to be more than just survival. It also had to be happiness, and they were trying to generate that feeling in the children again, or at least suggest it could be something they were striving for. It was very moving to me. They were really courageous people who were also slightly struggling in this very difficult situation.”

Glen expresses admiration for the way The Windermere Children, which was filmed in Northern Ireland, captures the horrors of the Holocaust without showing them, with the drama absent of any flashbacks or concentration camp reenactments.

“It was really down to these young actors who managed to do it, and Michael [Samuels, director] was brilliant with them,” he says. “You wanted that suggested history without every depicting it.”

The drama’s young cast pictured alongside the real ‘Windermere Children’ they play on screen and who appear at the end of the programme

Lawrence was a retired PE teacher who offered to help the children when they arrived at Windermere. “Just being outside and being active in the beautiful surroundings was actually really vital to a lot of their recovery,” Glen says. “All the people who received the kids weren’t quite prepared with the level of trauma and how to deal with it. In a simple sense, just getting them out and active was incredibly beneficial.”

Montefiore was behind the project, persuading the British government to allow hundreds of young Jewish concentration camp survivors to come to Britain, with the project supported by donations from the British Jewish community.

“They had no family to go home to. Something had to be done, and Leonard’s the kind of guy who fights and fights until those things happen,” McInnery says of his character. “He manages to raise money and convince politicians. I have huge admiration for these people; I’m hopeless at anything like that, so it’s humbling to play someone like that – who fights so hard on behalf of other people and dedicates their lives to it.

“What everybody managed to do in the space of four months is astonishing really. With these extraordinary people, the lives they [the children] managed to have afterwards are partly down to the people who gave them such help then.”

While the film – coproduced by Warner Bros ITVP Germany and distributed by Fremantle – is moving throughout and at times nightmarish and distressing, it is particularly poignant when the Red Cross delivers news of the fate of the children’s families, with none of it being positive. But it is ultimately a hugely uplifting and hopeful story, not least in the beautifully shot finale when the main characters stand on the bank of Lake Windermere, only to morph into their older, real-life counterparts.

Prague, August 1945: Some of the 300 refugee children headed for the Lake District

“I would be instinctively cautious about doing something like that, but I felt in this situation it was absolutely merited and a way to link the past and the present,” Samuels says. “What we tried to avoid was the sense that ‘everything’s sorted out now’ in four months, which would be ludicrous. But what we’re saying is we can imagine these people have hope and they will take something away from Windermere that didn’t exist beforehand.”

Block notes that it would be too easy to downplay the amount of suffering the children went through. “It didn’t end at Windermere by any stretch of the imagination,” he adds. “We wanted to avoid patness and it wasn’t about trying to rub the audience’s nose in human misery. It’s a much more interesting story about how these children came together and built a platform for the rest of their lives. They weren’t necessarily easy [lives], but they did that and it was important to end the film on an uplifting note.”

Certainly, the survivors and their families who attended a BBC screening of the film were satisfied by what they saw.

Polish-born Arek Hersh, who spent three years in concentration camps and now lives in Leeds, said the show was “very realistic,” adding: “It made me weep a bit, from time to time, and it was a true story of what actually happened.”

Harry Olmer, a fellow Polish survivor who went on to become a dentist in Glasgow, added: “The people who portrayed us were absolutely spot on. We were seen to begin with as semi-savages and yet we were brought back into humanity. We became human beings again.”

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A busy August in Edinburgh

Aidan Turner of Poldark fame was among And Then There Were None's star-studded cast
Aidan Turner of Poldark fame was among And Then There Were None’s star-studded cast

It’s been a busy end to August in terms of commissions and acquisitions. In the UK, the BBC has been especially active, taking advantage of the Edinburgh International Television Festival (EITF) as a platform for announcing or discussing new developments.

One of its most high-profile announcements is a deal with Agatha Christie Productions that will see seven Agatha Christie novels adapted for TV over the next four years. This follows an earlier announcement that it would be making The Witness for the Prosecution, with a cast led by Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborough, Kim Cattrall, David Haig, Billy Howle and Monica Dolan.

The first of the novels to be adapted under the seven-book deal will be Ordeal by Innocence. Other titles so far confirmed include Death Comes as the End and The ABC Murders, which focuses a race against time to stop a serial killer who is on the loose in 1930s Britain.

Commenting on the deal, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “These new commissions continue BBC1’s special relationship as the home of Agatha Christie in the UK. Our combined creative ambition to reinvent Christie’s novels for a modern audience promises to bring event television of the highest quality to a new generation enjoyed by fans old and new.”

The decision to plan so far ahead came after the success of And Then There Were None for BBC1 in 2015. That adaptation was written by Sarah Phelps, who is also working on the next two Christie projects. Further writers will be announced in due course.

Agatha Christie Ltd boss Hilary Strong
Agatha Christie Ltd boss Hilary Strong

Hilary Strong, CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, said: “And Then There Were None was a highlight of the 2015 BBC1 Christmas schedule, and we are truly delighted to be building on the success of that show, first with The Witness for the Prosecution, and then with adaptations of seven more iconic Agatha Christie titles. What Sarah Phelps brought to And Then There Were None was a new way of interpreting Christie for a modern audience, and Agatha Christie Ltd is thrilled to be bringing this psychologically rich, visceral and contemporary sensibility to more classic Christie titles for a new generation of fans.”

The Witness for the Prosecution is a Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions’ drama for BBC1, in association with A+E Networks and RLJ Entertainment’s development arm, Acorn Media Enterprises. RLJE’s streaming service, Acorn TV, is the US coproduction partner and will premiere the adaptation in the US. A+E Networks holds rest-of-world distribution rights to The Witness for the Prosecution, and will launch it at the Mipcom market in October.

Alongside the Christie announcement, the BBC’s Moore used the EITF to unveil a range of other dramas. These include an adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s acclaimed young-adult novel Noughts and Crosses and a new six-part drama from Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) entitled Bodyguard.

There is also an Edinburgh-set drama called Trust Me, written by Dan Sefton, and a new series from Abi Morgan called The Split. This one examines the fast-paced circuit of high-powered female divorce lawyers, through the lens of three sisters – Hannah, Nina and the youngest, Rose.

The Luminaries
The Luminaries is being adapted for BBC2

Moore’s announcements for BBC1 were built upon by BBC2 controller Patrick Holland, who also announced plans for new scripted series at the festival. “I want BBC2 to be the place where the best creative talents can make their most original and exciting work, where authorship flourishes,” he commented.

Holland’s headline drama announcement was MotherFatherSon, from author and screenwriter Tom Rob Smith (Child 44). This is an eight-part thriller that “sits at the intersections of police, politics and the press,” according to the BBC. “It is as much a family saga as it is a savage, unflinching study of power and how even the mightiest of empires can be in peril when a family turns on each other.”

Holland also greenlit The Luminaries, a six-part drama from Working Title Television based on the novel by Eleanor Catton. A 19th-century tale of adventure, set on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island in the boom years of the 1860s gold rush, The Luminaries is a story of love, murder and revenge, as men and women travelled the world to make their fortunes.

Catton, who will adapt her own novel for television, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries. She said: “Learning to write for television has been a bit like learning a new musical instrument: the melody is more or less the same, but absolutely everything else is different. I’m having enormous fun, learning every day, and I’m just so excited to see the world of the novel created in the flesh.”

Filming on the six-parter will begin in 2017, taking place in and around New Zealand.

Anna Friel in Marcella
Anna Friel in Marcella

While the BBC dominated the drama announcements at the EITF, ITV also used the event to reveal that there will be a second season of crime drama Marcella, written by The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt and starring Anna Friel. Produced by Buccaneer Media, the first season of the show was a top-rated drama on ITV, achieving an average of 6.8 million viewers across its run.

Commenting on the recommission, Rosenfeldt said: “I was delighted at the reaction to the first season and am thrilled to be revisiting Marcella for ITV. In the second season, the audience will get the opportunity to spend more time in her world, exploring some of the characters and getting to know them better.”

Other interesting stories as the industry gears up for autumn include the news that Amazon has acquired Australian drama The Kettering Incident from BBC Worldwide for its Prime Video service. The show was co-created by writer Victoria Madden and producer Vincent Sheehan was shot entirely in Tasmania. The eight-episode series tells the story of a doctor who returns to her hometown years after the disappearance of one of her friends.

The Kettering Incident
The Kettering Incident has been picked up by Amazon

In mainland Europe, Telecinco Spain has ordered a local version of hit Turkish series The End. Produced originally by Ay Yapim, the new version will be called El Accidente and will be the third local version of the show in Europe after remakes in Russia and the Netherlands.

The show, which was also piloted in the US, tells the story of a woman investigating her husband’s death in a plane crash, only to discover that he wasn’t on the flight. It is distributed by Eccho Rights, which has also sold the original to 50 countries.

In the US, premium pay TV channel Starz has renewed Survivor’s Remorse for a fourth season. The show has had a particularly strong third season having been paired in the schedule with Starz hit series Power. Across all platforms, it now draws around 2.9 million viewers per episode.

“We are thrilled to renew Survivor’s Remorse for a fourth season,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik. “Critics have consistently called it one of the smartest and funniest comedies on TV, and we are delighted to see audiences embracing the characters and the storyline with that same enthusiasm. Mike O’Malley and his tremendously talented team of writers and actors boldly tackle today’s most pressing issues, from race, class, sex and politics to love and loss, but with such a deft touch that nothing ever feels heavy-handed.”

The End has sold across the world
The End has sold across the world

In other news, ProSiebenSat.1-owned Studio71 is producing a live-action series inspired by the Battlefield video game franchise that will launch on Verizon’s Go90 platform. Rush: Inspired by Battlefield will stream on the mobile service from September 20.

The Battlefield franchise, developed by EA Dice and published by Electronic Arts, has amassed more than 60 million players since launching in 2002. “Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment today and there is a huge appetite for content inspired by video games,” said Studio 71 president Dan Weinstein.

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