Services families are given a voice through ITV’s new drama, Homefront, writes Lisa Williams
Last year, military wives stepped into the spotlight in the most extraordinary fashion.
Contrary to the image of these women bidding farewell to their husbands at the army base, we saw a group of them form a choir, then climb the charts with their Christmas number one, Wherever You Are.
Thanks to this achievement, and the preceding programme The Choir (fronted by choirmaster Gareth Malone), the country saw that this was a diverse and modern bunch of women, who are simultaneously the same yet different from the rest of us.
They may share the tastes, hopes and dreams of the rest of the country, but they alone bear the personal burden of overseas wars, knowing that every time their loved one goes on duty, they risk losing them.
New television drama Homefront seeks to explore that dynamic, and opens with scenes of military wives on a night out, being chatted up at the bar, and going for it on the dancefloor.
But sure enough, it’s not long before one of them gets that fateful knock on the door, and learns that their husband has been killed in battle.
“It’s a very tough life,” says Misfits actress Antonia Thomas, who plays Tasha, one of the younger wives. “I’ve got huge admiration for the partners of the soldiers. And it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, I think a lot of women aren’t sure how difficult it will be when they get into relationships with soldiers.”
To make sure the series rang true, writers and producers spoke to army wives and ex-servicemen, and consulted the Army Widows’ Association about that storyline.
Accuracy and sensitivity was important to the cast, too.
Clare Higgins plays Paula, a steely wife whose husband served for 22 years and whose two sons are in Afghanistan.
She says: “My primary thought was that my responsibility is to the families who live with this, whose sons and fathers and lovers are in Afghanistan. As long as the family are pleased with this, I’m happy.”
Outnumbered actress Claire Skinner, who plays officer’s wife Claire, adds: “The last thing you would want to do is upset anyone serving in Afghanistan or their families back home. Everyone was very aware and respectful of that.”
In the series, the death of this young soldier sends shockwaves across the garrison town, with questions raised about the circumstances of the death, and the effect this has on the relatives of those involved.
It also throws up tensions between the women who, in some respects, wear the rank of their husbands.
Former Brookside actress Nicola Stephenson plays Louise, a mother-of-two who met her husband while working as an army nurse.
The actress found out from a friend that this kind of tension can be a reality for many of the women.
“She’s the wife of an officer so I was asking her about the difference in status between the wives, depending on what rank their husbands were in,” says Stephenson. “She said it does go on and it is like that.”
Skinner learned that sometimes soldiers cannot share their experiences with their wives, which has the potential to damage the bond between them.
“I got a sense that things are kept from the wives, in their best interests.
“Things that they [husbands] can only speak with other soldiers about. That must be awful because you know something has happened and you can’t help,” says the actress.
Doing the series has made the cast take more notice of news about soldiers’ deaths.
Higgins explains: “Night after night you see it on the news. It’s always a very short announcement, ‘A 26-year-old died,’ and then, ‘The weather tomorrow is …’
“But since doing the series I want to know what the history is of that young man, and I want to know how his family feel, and how they’re dealing with it, and how they go on.”
Keeping a lid on emotions in public is part of the army way of life, they learnt, even when faced with the repatriation of their loved one’s body.
Thomas says: “Several of the wives and mothers said they wanted to run up to the coffin and weep but it’s being filmed and you can’t do that..
“It’s part of the army way of dealing with that situation and as an army wife or family member you know you have to go along with it.”
• Homefront was conceived when creator Sue Teddern taught creative writing to a woman who had served as a physiotherapist for injured soldiers.
• It has been brought to screen by former Coronation Street producer Kim Crowther and The Street and Breaking Bad director Terry McDonough.
• It also stars Greg Wise, Warren Brown and Lorraine Ashbourne.
• The series is set in the fictional northern town of Leysham, and was filmed in Frodsham, Cheshire.
• The costume department managed to get hold of latest issue uniforms, which they mixed in with old Combat 95s to be realistic, as not everyone will have been issued with the new uniforms in real life yet.
• Homefront begins on ITV1 on Thursday, 27 September
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