The following is commentary on Episode No. 19 ("Hope Against Hope") from members of AFAMILYATWAR-LIST. If you wish to add your thoughts to what is being said on this page, become a part of our discussion group by clicking the "Join" button.
“Hope Against Hope” is one of my favourite episodes. It has it all: drama, humour, mystery, memorable performances, and a lavish cast of no fewer than ten major characters.
In my opinion, the actress who plays Celia Porter is brilliant, not only in this episode but whenever she appears on screen. Celia, of course, is not a sympathetic character, but Margery Mason brings her to life so fluently that she seems to emerge as a real person. Though Celia is an annoying personality, I find myself watching her every expression, and never is there a false move to be seen.
We clearly witness Celia’s self-centredness during that marvellous scene aboard the train: glaring at the corporal through the compartment door’s glass, not bothering even to hear Sheila’s comments about her children in Wales, resenting a soldier’s kindness in retrieving her suitcase from the overhead rack. Much later, Celia feels entitled to remain in Margaret’s hospital room, while others patiently await their turn to visit. Then, upon departing the room, she gives Margaret an obligatory peck on the cheek, and that simple act of kissing her seems as cold and impersonal as a slap in the face. Somehow, I was not at all surprised when Celia embarrassed Edwin by requesting an orangeade in the pub!
Two other non-Ashton actors who deserve special accolades here are Mark Jones (as Michael) and Mark Edwards (as Owen). In the challenging role of conscientious objector Michael Armstrong, Mark Jones portrays this complex character’s mental anguish, as he wrestles with his doubts and convictions. Owen Thomas and Freda Ashton make such a nice couple that I become sad watching them grow apart. Freda’s whole personality seems to change the instant poor Owen happens to mention the word “uniform,” resuscitating her regret over the death of Peter Collins. I must agree with Owen when he complains to her, “Why is it, every time I come here, you’re blowing hot and cold?”
Some other random comments about “Hope Against Hope”…
The letter from Mr. Cowking to Celia Porter adds an intriguing layer of mystery to the story line, and director Gerry Mill’s decision to use tight shots during that brief exchange between Cowking and Edwin (discussing the likelihood that John is still alive) is effective and powerful.
Watch carefully during the office scene when Tony Briggs is chatting with Edwin Ashton at the printing works. Actress Margery Mason’s shoes can be seen very clearly at the top of the stairs, as she awaits her cue for descending into the camera frame. Or was that planned as such, showing character Celia Porter to be listening in on the men’s conversation?
Moments later, there is a brilliant stroke of writing when Edwin informs Celia that Margaret was injured during the raid and now is in hospital. Celia asks him if the baby is all right, and Edwin is stunned for an instant, until he realises that she is referring not to Margaret’s unborn child but to John George. An inspired touch.
A dramatic twist that works well is when Michael arrives at the hospital, and Freda whisks him away before he can come face-to-face with Celia Porter alongside Margaret’s bed.
There is a funny scene in the hospital room when Margaret is visited by cousin Tony and brother Robert. The men begin talking about that cute nurse “with the cheeky smile” (Sandra Downes), and suddenly Margaret feels quite excluded from the conversation!
There are two tiny moments embedded in “Hope Against Hope” that are easily overlooked but should not be missed. Owen’s facial expression is delightful when Freda again asks him to remove his hand from her knee after he places it there a second time. It is a mixture of boyish mischief and guilt. And then there is that moment when young Robert assures Margaret that he understands her unwed pregnancy. I love the way actress Lesley Nunnerley wrinkles her nose with a smile and tells him, “No, you don’t.”
Gert Bak Pedersen
As much as I agree with Richard on a lot of things regarding "A Family At War," I have to say that I have a different opinion on Margery Mason's acting.
It may have been discussed before (I joined this marvellous discussion group after the first episodes starring Margery), so perhaps it's an old debate. But to be honest, I think Margery Mason's character is 25% too much—to me she is more a caricature than a "real" person. I can certainly see what kind of person she was probably meant to be in the series: an egocentric, over-protective and manipulating figure. But unfortunately, I have to say that to me she is not credible.
The fine thing about "A Family At War" is that you can so easily relate to all the persons, no matter if they are "good or bad." It seems that one knows the personalities from one's own life. But Celia Porter (in my humble opinion) is more like a parody. Funny enough, I read in a book by Colin Douglas that Margery Mason was one of the actors who thought that there should be more fun in the episodes.
I must admit that I belong to the group of contributors who think the role of Celia is created and played in a way too wicked to be true. I know she is a poor and bitter soul who seems to have lost all substance in life but her son whom she also lost. But I think she would have been more credible if she had been pictured more sympathetic and with a little more human decency. She could still have been a nuisance to her sorroundings, but we might have understood her a little better -- including why Harry married her in the first place.
There were times when I wondered if I might have gone too far with aspects of Celia Porter's character, but then I remembered the person I had based it on, and I felt I didn’t go far enough! I think the key to her situation is to be found in Harry’s post-World War One situation when, like many others, his rank as an officer and ‘gentleman’ was reduced to that of a second grade clerk, as happened to so many in both wars. She would feel it perhaps even more than he did. I don’t think Margery went over the top in playing the part, I think she did it so well that she demonstrated the truth and not the fiction. Harry is, as she sees it, not the man she married, and there is some truth in this. When she exposes Margaret’s relationship she is convinced she is doing the ‘right’ thing, and I think this is true of the character generally. However, I find all your comments very relevant, especially on debatable issues such as this.
Thank you for your response! It is a fantastic and almost surrealistic possibility we have to correspond directly with the creator of the series. And I will not miss the possibility of answering you back.
I am glad I have never met the person from whom you created Celia Porter! But knowing that such a person has actually existed makes her indeed more credible. Also, it makes sense to me when you explain the figure as a result of dissapointed expectations caused by Harry's lack of ambition and possibilities after world war one. I see that in that time the destiny of women in Celia's social class were closely connected to their husbond's careers - and that a failed career ment a failed life for the women who became the unwillingly victims of their husbond's failure. Today a women could make a career for herself - it was not a possibility for Celia. I imagine she came from a rather Victorian family with little means but high ideals and great ambitions for the marriage of their only daughter. When Harry doesn't succeed she throws all her love and life upon her child - as so many women have done before and after her. It makes her even more vulnable, because when John doesn't need her anymore - who does? (In the last episodes it seems that Harry does - afterall. A very interesting and unexpected development!)
So all this explains the Celia-character but it doesn't excuse her for spoiling so much for her family. And the funny thing is that in her fight for Victorian values and decent behaviour she actually breaks the norms herself - for instance when she opens Michael's letter to Margaret and when she behaves so self-centred that she totally ignores anybody else's feelings and problems.
But thank you for introducing Celia in the series, John. She is a person we all love to hate - though I now understand her a little better. Sure the series would have been much less exciting without her!
That excerpt from “Hope Against Hope” (19) was particularly well-staged, I think, with Lennard Pearce giving a fine performance as Cowking. Try as I might, I never could detect a left arm up the actor’s sleeve, so the cameraman did his part well, too. I like the way John Finch crafted the script, revealing just a bit of the story with every turn, rather like a good mystery. My only casting reservation is that I cannot escape the feeling that Cowking was much too old for the role of a soldier. What were the age requirements of the British Army at this time (May 1941)? Still, a gripping scene that serves to revive our hopes that John Porter may indeed be alive.