Hidden Gems - Fortunes of War (Mini-Series) | Mechanics' Institute

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Hidden Gems - Fortunes of War (Mini-Series)

In olden times when we watched videos at home using these strange, now antiquated, machines called "VHS players," I decided to rent this mini-series to give me something to do on a long, rainy weekend. I planned to watch it over the course of 2-3 days. Instead, I binge-watched it continuously, one episode after another, straight through until well after midnight on the first night. I could not stop watching. 


Contrary to the title, this is not a war movie, at least not in the typical sense. You would also not think that this story would prove so engaging either. Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thomson portray a rather ordinary British married couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle, living in Romania in 1939. Guy starts out as a lecturer in English Literature at a university in Bucharest. But when the war starts and the Germans advance, they have to flee – first to Athens, then to Cairo. Guy's gregarious nature leads him to make friends with a motley assortment of expats: White Russians, displaced royals, diplomats, writers, journalists, literary types, dissidents, grifters and spies. 


You never see any battle scenes – the Second World War serves as a background, the political upheaval in Romania and its subsequent alliance with Nazi Germany imposing extraordinary situations and circumstances on the Pringles and their friends. Lacking action sequences, shoot-outs, chase scenes or other loudness, Fortunes of War above all else embodies the best elements of character drama. The mini-series format gives us more time than a movie ever could to get to know the characters, flesh out their personalities and motivations, show where the fractures form in marriages, friendships, and in some cases, ever shifting loyalties. 

The script starts out with excellent source material in the books by Olivia Manning: The Balkan and Levant trilogies.

Posted on Apr. 21, 2023 by Steven Dunlap