Quick DVD Box Set Review – ‘A Family At War’

Hello everyone! 🙂

Welcome to ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog and I’m Tim Bradley!

How do I sum up a TV drama series from the early 1970s about a family in Liverpool who went through the Second World War? Well, it probably wasn’t what I was expecting all the time. The series changed a lot and many characters didn’t last to the end. But the writing and the cast are very good.

‘A Family At War’ was shown from 1970 to 1972. It was created by John Finch and was made by Granada Television for ITV. I purchased the complete series of ‘A Family At War’ on DVD in a 22-disc box set in 2014. The series lasted for three seasons with 52 episodes in total. That’s a lot of episodes.

The series is about the Ashton family who live through the Second World War and struggle with the harsh realities that go on around it. The family’s sons are sent away to fight and the children are evacuated to the country. Also those who remain at home live in constant fear of the air raid attacks.

My parents and I saw this series from beginning to end in the middle of 2017 last year. We finished the last episode yesterday in 2018 this year. It has been a pretty extraordinary, emotional and character-driven series to watch. There were times when it seemed slow, but then it was the 1970s.

I’m glad my parents and I have seen this war-time series. It had its ups and downs and there were things about the series I wasn’t happy with. This was to do with the direction that the series went for involving the family and character dramas, especially in the period setting of the Second World War.

Mind you to be fair, that is kind of the point of the series. The Second World War wasn’t a happy period for many who had to live through it. It was pretty depressing and war does strange things to people. It was pretty intriguing to see this in a 1970s TV drama series with varying levels throughout.

A lot of the time though, each episode of the series ended on a depressing note involving a sudden character drama moment. It had a lot to do with how a certain character behaved in the series. I wished that each episode of the series had ended on more light-hearted notes than depressing ones.

Also, the series tended not to focus a lot on the war itself. It focused a lot on the family members of the Ashtons who coped with fighting in the war or staying at home whilst the war went on. You could say ‘A Family At War’ was the equivalent of a ‘Eastenders’ soap opera drama during war-time.

I’m not saying though that there weren’t any light-hearted and happy moments during the series. There were times when I really cared about the characters and wanted them to be happy by the end. Also the series did make you think about certain situations with characters during the war itself.

The biggest highlight of this series for me of course is the cast themselves. Each member of the cast delivered brilliant performances in this drama series and it was nice to spot cast members I recognised from other shows. There were some cast members I recognised from ‘Doctor Who’ here.

Colin Douglas stars as Edwin Ashton, the father of the Ashton family in this series. I’ve seen Colin Douglas in ‘Doctor Who’ stories like ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’. There’s also Shelagh Fraser as Jean Ashton, the mother of the family. Shelagh Fraser also played Luke Skywalker’s aunt in ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’. I discovered this whilst I’d watched ‘A Family At War’.

There’s also Colin Campbell as David Ashton with Coral Atkins as his wife, Sheila. There’s a really young Barbara Flynn as Freda Ashton who eventually married a really young John Nettles as Ian Mackenzie. There’s Keith Drinkel who I’ve seen in the ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘Time-Flight’, as Philip Ashton. There is also David Dixon as Robert Ashton, who sadly gets killed during the second season.

The characters I cared a lot about in this series were Lesley Nunnerley as Margaret, formerly an Ashton, who gets married to Ian Thompson as John Porter. I was intrigued to find out what would happen to these two since their happy marriage was threatened by the declaration of war. John went off to fight and got missing, while Margaret waited and wondered if her husband would return.

There’s also John McKelvey as Sefton Briggs and T.R. Bowen as his son Tony Briggs who are related to the Ashton family. There’s also Diana Davies as Doris Jackson, who appears in the series’ third season. Some of the episodes with the Briggs were pretty good, especially ones without the Ashtons.

But the biggest cast member that got me excited about was Patrick Troughton as Harry Porter, John Porter’s dad. Yeah! I was thrilled to bits about Patrick Troughton, who played the Second Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’, in ‘A Family At War’. He did this after he did ‘Doctor Who’ and before he did ‘The Three Doctors’. I felt sorry for Patrick’s character concerning his wife Margery Mason as Celia Porter.

There were a number of episodes in ‘A Family At War’ that didn’t feature everybody. Most of them were character study episodes on one character like Keith Drinkel’s Philip when he was out there in the war zone. Keith Drinkel doesn’t appear in the third season as his character gets killed off-screen!

In fact, many certain characters didn’t last to the end of the series like Shelagh Fraser’s Jean character dying tragically at the end of Season Two. This is where it gets depressing and doesn’t feel reassuring as it should be. I suppose the point is not everybody in this war survives to the very end.

The last episode of this series does however end on a happy note. I was pleased that it did since I was worried it might end with an even more depressing note. It finishes with the characters reflecting on all they’ve been through in the war and how they look to the future in their new lives.

‘A Family At War’ is a very good drama series from the 1970s. It’s well-written for the most part and has some great performances from the cast all around. It wasn’t exactly the series I hoped for, but it was worthwhile watching. I’m glad my parents and I have seen this series and that we’ve finished it.

By the way, a young David Bradley, who would later replay William Hartnell in ‘An Adventure In Space and Time’ and the First Doctor in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘Twice Upon A Time’ appeared in some episodes of this series.

Thanks for reading!

Bye for now!

Tim. 🙂

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