‘My Grandparents’ War’ takes four actors on familial journeys

PBS series revisits World War II through a personal lens

Helena Bonham Carter

While they are massive events, to those directly impacted, wars also are deeply personal.

Several well-known British actors trace their ancestors’ World War II experiences in “My Grandparents’ War,” a four-part PBS documentary series debuting Sunday, April 4 (check local listings), then continuing on subsequent Sundays. In the premiere, Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”) reveals how her French and English grandparents were literal life-savers; later episodes feature Oscar and multiple Tony winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”), Kristin Scott Thomas (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”).

“It was a certain gift, this job,” Bonham Carter reflects, “because it was something I always felt that I needed to do myself. And I’d strongly encourage, having done it, everyone (to) go pursue what their grandparents did … whether they were part of a war or not. It was explaining part of my own self to myself. We carry our grandparents and what they did somewhere inside us, and they have a lot to teach us.”

Rylance agrees, adding that his “My Grandparents’ War” mission was made more special by a fellow traveler: “I asked if I could bring my father with me, and though he only appears for a moment in the film, he was there with me at every occasion. We were able to weep together and laugh together and talk together during the whole thing. Who wouldn’t like that kind of experience? It was very, very rich.”

Executive producer Tom Anstiss reasons, “The strength of the series is that Mark, Helena, Kristin, and Carey all address unique aspects of World War II. And it’s a combination of not just family history, but social history and political history. Their grandparents’ stories become the prism, if you like, from which they explore untold stories of World War II.”

In fact, Rylance says he hopes “My Grandparents’ War” will continue beyond one season, and with “people who are not celebrities like us, but just ‘normal’ people who have wonderful connections with their grandparents. I think it could be a very far-reaching series for PBS, and very, very fascinating for people.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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