Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 4/18/18 3:05 am
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In Flying Blind, the penultimate tale of the first Big Finish Originals release, ATA Girl, Judith Heathcote (Nathalie Buscombe) has been a part of ATA since the start, and is seen as a mother figure to the other girls, especially Susan De Winter (Lydia Piechowiak). But Judith isn’t happy; her own daughter is under the care of her parents, and her husband is missing in action, and she’s beginning to question if her sacrifices are worth it if she herself is so unhappy. So when an opportunity for love arises in the form of Flight Captain Bryant (Matthew Wellman), Judith throws herself into it; but she’s soon to encounter a series of harrowing events that will propel her towards an unthinkable solution, all in the sake of happiness. Producer Helen Goldwyn’s contribution to ATA Girl continues the strong, dark trend of these stories with a harrowing tale of the sacrifices one makes to try and be happy. Nathalie Buscombe leads off an incredible story with a powerful turn as Judith Heathcote, a woman yearning for her own happiness, while Lydia Piechowiak and Matthew Wellman support her with strong turns as Susan De Winter and Flight Captain Bryant. Goldwyn’s script is a harrowing journey from a quiet affair, that ends with a shocking, harrowing ending. One scene in the story in particular is a gruesome, powerful message, with political undertones, and may just be one of the highlights of the set. As the set begins to wrap up, it’s becoming clear that this set may just be one of the best releases Big Finish has ever put out, as writer Helen Goldwyn delivers yet another perfect tale for ATA Girl.
Nathalie Buscombe stars in this play as Judith Heathcote, an ATA girl who, while looked up to as a motherly figure for her ability to make others in the group happy, is deeply unhappy with her own lot in life. Buscombe is a highlight of the story, as she delivers a strong, intense performance as Judith throughout the tale. Buscombe shows a strong range of emotions throughout the story, but perhaps her most powerful emotion is her seeming apathy throughout. She’s able to convey a detachment and apathy in her performance that heightens the tone of the story throughout; scenes like Judith finding out about the supposed death of her husband are all the more powerful for it. But she’s also a revelation when she’s conveying the frustration and emotional sadness of her character, like when she finds out her husband is in fact alive, or when she’s on her deathbed, simultaneously delighted and saddened that Bryant sees her like that. It’s a harrowing performance, but one that Buscombe more than rises to the occasion for. Joining Buscombe are Lydia Piechowiak as Susan de Winter, a young, naive ATA girl who looks up to Judith, and Matthew Wellman as Flight Captain Bryant, a captain who, in the midst of a deeply unhappy relationship with his wife, develops an intense relationship with Judith. Piechowiak gives a strong performance alongside Buscombe in particular, as someone who looks up to her, and is somewhat stunned by her hypocrisy. She conveys a lot of pain and anger in her scene confronting Buscombe over her character’s affair with a married man, and works well to convey the understanding as the story progresses that develops between the two characters. Wellman is generally strong as Bryant, and I particularly enjoyed the way he was written and the way Wellman brought the character to life. They could’ve made him a sleazy character, cheating on his wife with a pretty, young thing like Judith, but Wellman gives him a sense of moral honesty and guilt that eats away at him throughout the story, even if it isn’t always at the forefront of things.
Helen Goldwyn, the first non-newcomer writer to take on ATA Girl, and also producer of the set, spins an intriguing tale of romance and sacrifice, throughout the story. It continues the mature trend of this box set with yet another strong tale of adults and the complicated lives they lead, but it also delivers one of the most visceral, harrowing scenes I’ve heard yet on audio in its latter half, but I’ll dive into that a little later. The plot is a strong one, with Goldwyn crafting a tragic tale of a woman’s life being momentarily lifted by a chance at love, only to have it all come crashing down. The maturity of this tale is something I keep referencing, and I think it’s remarkably applicable to this story. Many, lesser stories have been told of romance in war time that end on a hopeful note or, if they must end on a tragic one of a life cut short, they tend to make the rest of the story rosy. None of the three stories of ATA Girl have done this, really. Each story has featured a set of circumstances that has caused each story to strive to be happy, only to have something tear everything down. This story is no exception, as a series of circumstances arise that makes Judith’s dream of a happy marriage with Bryant and their two children go horribly wrong. It could’ve had a fairytale ending, happily ending, but instead Goldwyn, and indeed all the writers, pull the rug out, and remind the listener that war is hell, and that happy endings don’t always exist. None of these tales are meant to be happy; they’re the tales of those who didn’t make it, who didn’t have a good time in the middle of war, who struggled, but were then forgotten. They’re not the heroes, they’re not the ending of a fairy tale. They’re ordinary people who experience human events that often don’t end well. It’s a powerful, if tragic, storytelling arc, but it’s also really made this entire set one of the best releases from Big Finish in a long while.
In the latter half of the story, the main character, Judith, having found out her husband is in fact alive, and not being able to bear the shame of telling him she’s pregnant by another man, goes and does something that was secretive and dangerous: she goes and gets an abortion. The scene is as meticulously crafted as it is horrifying; the man performing the abortion, Mr. Thomas (played brilliantly by Nigel Fairs), is rude, rough, and does his best to make her feel as guilty as possible. He does not give her kind words, he doesn’t make things easy for her; he simply threatens that if she screams, she’ll be kicked out, and that she must endure the pain. It’s a powerful, disturbing scene for so many reasons; Mr. Thomas’ insistence that she completely disrobe is disgusting, her screams of pain shatter the heart, and the plain rudeness of it makes it all the more terrifying and horrifying. Data on abortions in that time period is scarce; some sources, using a combination of reporting and estimates, guesses that between 300 and 500 abortions were performed at that time, none of them legal. By most historical accounts, this was the norm at the time, this kind of treatment. It’s historical fact that unwanted pregnancies were treated as, “problems”, never spoken of out loud, and that women were subjected to abuse and derision for it by the very people helping them. By putting a scene like this into the story, the results of it are two-fold: firstly, it shows that these stories are uninterested in telling safe stories; they’re doing their best to get to the dark, dingy corners of the world, and show the true, harrowing historical details. Secondly, it’s a powerful political statement that resonates around the world, but especially for myself, in a country where abortion laws are complex and vary state-by-state, with many states all but outlawing them. It can be seen as a rallying cry of sorts, or just as a simple, almost clinical statement of fact, but the message remains the same: this is what happens without legal access to abortion, and these are the consequences of it.
Overall, Flying Blind is a powerful, mature tale of the unspoken of horrors of life in the 1940s, told by set producer and writer, Helen Goldwyn. Goldwyn doesn’t pull her punches, with a harrowing, tragic story of a woman wishing for happiness, only to have a series of circumstances destroy any chance she has for that happiness. The character piece is a strong one, and the political messages of the story resonate into the present, and really help solidify this set as one of the most mature pieces of drama to come out of Big Finish. Goldwyn’s impeccable script is supported by a trio of performances, from Nathalie Buscombe as Judith, and Lydia Piechowiak and Matthew Wellman as Susan de Winter and Flight Captain Bryant, respectively. Going into the final story of the set, ATA Girl has already more than prove itself to be one of the finest releases to come out of Big Finish in a long while, and I have extremely high hopes for the final story.