Written by Alison James
There’s no doubt in Samantha Bond’s mind why Home Fires, ITV’s drama based around a Cheshire branch of the Women’s Institute during the Second World War, has proved to be such a success, with ratings for the first series topping six million.
“It’s ultimately about a community coming together and helping each other,” says Samantha, who plays Frances, the heart and soul of the community. “I think that’s what people got attached to because it’s what we all yearn for. Home Fires is a great advert for community, helping each other and looking out for each other.
“I truly think that’s the show’s big appeal and certainly in parts of Britain today, particularly some bigger towns and cities, it’s become a rare thing which is very sad. There is a huge longing for it. I’m so lucky that I still live in the area that I grew up in. Also, my kids went to the local schools. My mothers’ group is still there. We were a good group of mums – we could have had our own WI!”
Samantha clearly loves being part of a close community of women. When we spoke to her last year about Downton Abbey ending (she played Lady Rosamund in the Julian Fellowes drama), she referred to her fellow Downton actresses as “my girls” and confessed to being in tears whenever she thought of them all parting ways.
Home Fires is a great advert for community, helping each other out
With Home Fires, however, she’s extremely happy that another close community has been formed.
“I adore them,” she says, referring to her co-stars who include Francesca Annis who plays snobby Joyce Cameron and Claire Rushbrook who plays put-upon, unhappily married Pat Simms. “We got to know each other properly very, very fast. Because of the storylines and the huge emotional journeys that were made, an honesty developed and very quickly a shorthand between us all too, which is reflected in what you see in front of the camera.
“We really are a very tight-knit group now and it’s absolutely glorious – I’m afraid we are appallingly happy and we relish each other’s company on-set and off. I can’t remember ever having been in a company so happy and so funny and so full of love.
“We’re all immensely supportive of one another. The men in our Home Fires community are brilliant, too. In fact, our writer is a man – Simon Block has done a fantastic job.”
So what can we expect from this second series?
“Now the characters are known to the viewers, we really do hit the ground running,” Samantha (54) reveals. “Knowing who everyone is becomes a very important shorthand. For example, the moment you see Pat you know exactly her story so far. I think the nation took Pat to their hearts in series one. What Simon Block has done so cleverly is take a situation and twist it in such an unexpected way. When we did the script read-through for episodes one to three in this second series there were so many gasps. And laughter. Then we got to the end of episode three and half the table was in tears. A lot of it is an emotional rollercoaster for many of the women. My character, Frances, goes through a mangle, really, although her marriage to factory owner Peter is rock solid. At the beginning of episode one she could never have imagined the emotions that would be called on later.”
Naturally the war looms ever-larger in their lives. “It’s summer 1940 so the fear of invasion is now very real,” Samantha explains. There is no panic, but the English Channel is just 21 miles across. That’s nothing for a fleet of German boats. The aeroplanes fly over the village of Great Paxford on a regular basis. You feel the terror felt by the community and it really pulls at the heart strings.
“While the WI is still in the picture, it’s less prominent in series two. In series one the WI was a means to get to know everyone. It showed you friendships and support networks, all of which are still there.”
Before we finish we want to know Samantha’s opinion on the rumoured film of Downton Abbey. She smiles mysteriously.
“People will be pleased if it happens but there’s no point getting excited about it until it does. I don’t think the film can include every character so I don’t know if Rosamund will be part of it. We’ll all just have to wait and see.”
Did you know...?
- Samantha is best known for playing Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films during the Pierce Brosnan years
- She also played unreliable Auntie Angela in BBC comedy Outumbered
- She's the daughter of The Onedin Line actor Philip Bond and TV producer Pat Sandys
- Samantha is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and starred opposite Dame Judi Dench in David Hare's play Amy's View
- Her husband is Alexander Hanson with whom she has two children, Molly and Tom
Home Fires is on Sundays on ITV
There's more star chat in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.