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Screen people: Behind the barbed wire of P.O.W.; Wartime drama is back on TV with a pounds 1 million replica Stalag prison camp.
Publication: The People (London, England)
Date: Oct 5, 2003
By: FRANCINE COHEN
Screen people: Behind the barbed wire of P.O.W.; Wartime drama is back on TV with a pounds 1 million replica Stalag prison camp. FRANCINE COHEN went on set...
Ever since the brave escapades of the inmates in The Great Escape, and the award-winning series Tenko, we've been fascinated by wartime prison camp dramas.
Now a new ITV1 series, P.O.W, will be aired this week, charting the exploits, bravery and humour of the inmates of Stalag 39.
Starring James D'Arcy as the hero Flight Sergeant Jim Caddon, ex-EastEnder Joe Absolom and Patrick Baladi, the six-part series will avoid the cliches of wartime drama, prefering to show the harsh reality of a German camp.
"My character has quite a job on his hands," says James, who wowed audiences in ITV1's Nicholas Nickleby. "While having to negotiate with the camp's brutal Kommandant, he has to keep his unruly RAF men in check, some of whom are not pleasant characters themselves. In fact, the only thing keeping the PoWs going is the desire to escape."
But the real star of the show is the replica camp, built in Lithuania for pounds 1 million after consultations with the Imperial War Museum in London and former stalag captives.
"It took 300 local craftsmen seven weeks to build it," says producer Victoria Fea. "It is as real as can be, from the guards' house to the hospital and latrines."
The camp - called Stalag 39 so as not to link it with the 38 real PoW camps - consists of eight prisoners' huts, the Kommandant's residence, wash house and 20 miles of barbed wire, on land rented from farmers in Bezdonys, near the capital, Vilnius.
Aside from the cast of 20, there were 200 Lithuanian extras. "We had special moments," says Victoria.
"Most couldn't speak English, so interpreters relayed instructions. You try teaching 200 Lithuanians the old war song Hitler Has Only Got One B***!"
Stalag 39. Around 2.5km of cable was laid down for the watchtower and perimeter lighting. Workmen also drilled down 70ft to reach water, so the men could pump it up for showers and latrines as prisoners were forced to do during the war.
All the German officer cars and motorbikes were authentic models from WWII.
James D'Arcy and Joe Absolom discuss their local accommodation. The actors had their own apartments in Vilnius and got pounds 16 a day for food in a city where a good restaurant meal is about pounds 3.
A make-up girl puts bruises and scars on Matthew Rhys, whose character has been interrogated by the SS. A plastic resin called Tuplast is mixed with red food colouring to look like wounds.
It's time for another haircut for James D'Arcy, Flight Sergeant Jim Caddon. The make-up team each did up to eight haircuts a day.
German uniforms were all made specially. "Longjohns, vests and shirts were aged using make-up," explains wardrobe supervisior Daiga Vaitkeviciute.
Joe Absolom grabs a quick bite before rushing to meet his girlfriend Liz. "I got terribly lonely out there, although the cast and crew were great," he says.
A line up of PoWs in uniform. With 225 English uniforms to make, the wardrobe team had problems finding material to match WWII khaki. Eventually 2,000 metres of material was especially woven and dyed in Poland to make the uniforms.
Tough guys tough it out behind the wire. James D'Arcy as Jim Caddon, Joe Absolom as Drew `Lightly' Pritchard and Patrick Baladi as Captain Attercombe
P.O.W., ITV1, Fri, 9pm