Enemy at the Door

1978 | United Kingdom

Hefty historical dramas were a popular choice during the 1970s. The idea of a work about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War had already been explored to great success by the William Douglas Home play 'The Dame of Sark', based on the autobiography of said Dame, Sybil Hathaway. In 1977, London Weekend Television decided to go one step further and commissioned a full 13-part drama series that explored the uneasy co-existence between the German forces and the islanders of Guernsey.

The show worked wonderfully well. At its core were Dr Philip Martel, played by Bernard Horsfall, and Major Richter (Alfred Burke). Richter's approach is not of the expected depiction of a Nazi officer in as much as his focus was on keeping life on the island comparatively normal, with a fairly loose grip on the island and its lawmakers. The Channel Islands had been largely dismissed by Great Britain in terms of strategic importance, hence the German occupation for most of the war, and so Burke's depiction of a more lenient commandant and Horsfall's role as the well-respected but uncomfortably compromised doctor make for a tense drama. Perhaps it would not have been this way but for the third wheel in this uneasy scenario, the truly repugnant SS officer Hauptmann Reinicke, played with evil relish by Simon Cadell prior to his Hi-de-hi! days. Reinicke has no redeeming qualities and is fully immersed in the idea of a tyrannical rule of an island that should bow before the German forces. So successful in his role was Cadell that he was actually attacked in the street for his depiction of evil personified. 

Alfred Burke as Major Richter in Enemy at the Door

The writing for the programme was excellent. For the most part, it offered one individual storyline in each episode, ideal for creating tension and holding its audience. Such storylines as the trial and shooting of a German soldier for a rape that never actually took place are packed with conflict and typical of the quality of the programme. A number of well-known actors also come and go, including Richard Heffer, Gary Waldhorn and John Nettles.

Enemy At The Door was met with wide critical acclaim. Its mass of location filming was primarily shot on Jersey, despite it being set on Guernsey. The significant location costs meant that it required a high budget and although it was picked up for a second series which aired in 1980, after 26 episodes the programme was axed, meaning we never got to see the impact on the characters of the conclusion of the war within the programme. Nonetheless, the Enemy At The Door still makes for gripping viewing.

Brian Slade, the writer of this review, has written the Authorised Biography of Simon Caddell in which many unpublished documents and unpublished photographs cast a light on Cadell’s childhood struggles with dyslexia and his escape attempts from boarding school. Family and friend interviews tell the story of how a nervous youngster became one of the greatest acting talents of his generation.

Published on December 10th, 2018. Review: Brian Slade (May 2018).

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