Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 4/18/18 3:05 am
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In the final episode of ATA Girl, Grounded, things are hopping at the ATA in early 1945. A birthday party is being thrown for the beloved Mrs. Cook (Jane Slavin), and nearly everyone is celebrating. But not all; outside, Amelia (Alicia Ambrose-Bayly) and her best friend, Widdley (Lucy Pickles) are trying their best to comfort haunted RAF pilot Walter Richardson (Matt Barber), who’s traumatized by the horrors of war he’s witnessed. But everything at ATA changes as an unexpected German air raid takes place, and the sirens sound. Suddenly, everyone at ATA is scrambling to safety, trying their best to survive the air raid. With the various members of the ATA separated from one another, each group faces their own trials and tribulations. Everyone at ATA is reminded of those that they’ve lost over the course of the war, but there are still losses to come in this war, as they’re about to find out. Grounded, by Jane Slavin, closes out ATA Girl with yet another winning story, though this time centered around the themes of loss and the horrors of war. Much of the cast of the previous three stories returns, but this story belongs to its four leading actors: Alicia Ambrose-Bayly, Lucy Pickles, Kate Copeland, and Matt Barber. While the previous three stories certainly used World War II as the backdrop for the story, and it’s certainly omnipresent throughout each story, Jane Slavin really brings the set back to that setting, and throws the ATA girls into a setting that none of the other writers have really harnessed as much as she does here. What results is a powerful tale and a reminder of the horrors of war, and a rather excellent ending to an excellent box set.
Throughout the four stories of ATA Girl, Alicia Ambrose-Bayly has been a presence throughout; either as part of the framing narrative for the story, or as a background player, as in Dancing with a Spitfire and Flying Blind, or as part of the action in a supporting role, as in Up in the Air, but with this story, she really takes the lead, and proves her mettle as an actor. Ambrose-Bayly commands the story from the word go as Amelia; she injects a humanity and a humor into her character that makes her all the more engaging and interesting, and really does a fine job conveying the emotions of the various scenes. She’s at her finest in the story when she’s comforting Matt Barber’s Walter, or when she’s traumatized by the death of Walter and the presumed death of Widdley, played by Lucy Pickles. The closing scene, as she begs to be allowed to stay with Walter’s body, rather than simply get out, and her fear when she finds out Widdley was at the site of a bombing, is harrowing to hear, and truly affecting. Ambrose-Bayly has been a reliable narrator and framer for the set’s tales of the unsung heroes of World War II, and when she takes the lead, she proves why she was tasked with leading this set, easily.
Joining Ambrose-Bayly is a cast of three supporting characters; Lucy Pickles as Widdley, Amelia’s best friend, Matt Barber as Walter Richardson, a traumatized RAF pilot, and Kate Copeland as Pauline Gower. Pickles does strong work as Widdley, injecting the character with a sense of kindness and sweetness, but also with a fiercely protective streak, and makes her character pop well. Barber is strong as Walter throughout, and really does a phenomenal job portraying a man completely traumatized by war. In particular, I thought his performance as the German air raid passed overhead, screaming and begging for the planes to take him out, was particularly powerful and tragic. But the final piece of the puzzle is another omnipresent character: Kate Copeland as Pauline Gower. Pauline Gower was a real person; she’s the person who got the women’s section at ATA started and led them throughout the war. Copeland ably portrays and gives life to this incredibly woman who created and led one of the foremost women’s equality initiatives. She’s initially portrayed in earlier stories as a no-nonsense kind of person, all work, no games, and this reputation is seemingly confirmed by her nickname: the Ice Queen. But Copeland injects a lot of humanity and kindness into her performance in this story, and the character truly shines because of it.
Jane Slavin is tasked with finishing off the box set with her tale, Grounded, and more than rises to the occasion. Each story in the set has had a theme; some are about trying to repair broken bonds, while others are about the personal sacrifices one makes. Slavin brings the story back to its roots, the setting of World War II, and tells a harrowing tale of the horrors and tragedy of war. The plot of Slavin’s story is an interesting one, and has a four-fold focus. The main focus is absolutely the powerful tale between Amelia, Widdley, and Walter, but there are three interesting B-plots that work to try and bring closure to the other three stories. Slavin once again draws attention to the special bond and feelings between Mina and Jeanette, the tragedy of Daphne Coyne’s mission to her sister, Rebecca, and Gower, and the way that Susan de Winter has taken the lessons she learned from Judith to heart, as she tries to navigate the world to protect herself. It’s nice to hear each story wrapped up in a small way, even if it’s not 100% satisfying, but that’s simply the way things are with regards to the setting. The story, despite these forays out of the main plot between Amelia, Widdley, and Walter, never feels forced or overstuffed though, and instead progresses naturally, as Slavin has constructed a strong framing device, of a German air raid forcing the ATA girls to separate into smaller groups.
But certainly the highlight of the tale comes from the main plot of the story, and perhaps the main message of the box set itself. The tragic tale of Amelia, Widdley, and Walter is the backbone of the story. It starts from simply a man being so traumatized by war that he wishes for death at the hands of a German air raid, and ends with Amelia, traumatized by the loss of her best friend and a man who she loved, closing herself off from her time with the ATA, for it was too hard to bear. The story of Amelia on that fateful day is a powerful tale, that Slavin crafts with care and passion. It’s rare that a story can affect me as much as this one did, but I quite honestly welled up a bit at the end of the tale, because it’s such a powerful, affecting moment. She’s a woman traumatized by war, who led a hard life where she was expected to be the dotting wife of her husband, and before she’d even turned 30, she had already experienced a harder life than most had. But through it all, she found the strength to keep going, and live her life. It may not have been the best life, but it was her life, and she did the best she could to make the world better for her daughter and granddaughter. It’s a remarkable tale of strength that Slavin crafts with her tragic tale of Amelia and the death of the two people she cared about most, and a powerful reminder of the consequences of war.
Overall, Grounded ends the box set with yet another triumphantly powerful tale, this time centered around the themes of loss and the horrors of war. Jane Slavin creates yet another breathtaking story, centered around a powerful tale of what is arguably the worst day of main character Amelia Curtis’ life, as she experiences the full brunt of World War II’s horrors. Alicia Ambrose-Bayly does a marvelous job in her role as Amelia, conveying a wide range of powerful emotions, from kindness and camaraderie, to the harrowing desperation and horrifying apathy that losing everything to war brings out in her character. She’s joined by Lucy Pickles as Widdley, Matt Barber as Walter Richardson, and Kate Copeland as Pauline Gower, all of whom help support Ambrose-Bayly and Slavin’s story with some fine acting. At the end of ATA Girl, we’ve heard four powerful, affecting stories of the unsung heroes of World War II, and Slavin’s may just be the best of them all, for reminding us what exactly was at stake in the midst of war, more so than the other stories.