Nella Last, the ‘housewife, 49’ of the title of this much acclaimed drama was exactly that; a working-class housewife in Barrow-in-Furness, aged forty-nine at the start of World War Two, when she volunteered to keep a diary as part of Mass-Observation. This was a long term social research project which ran for over twenty years beginning in 1937, which has been a rich mine for historians and students of popular culture ever since. Originally, researchers wanted to know how ordinary people really felt and reacted to events, and about five hundred volunteer diarists obliged. Nella Last was one of the most prolific of them, writing nearly two million words during World War Two. Her war diary was published as “Nella Lasts’ War” and adapted for this television production by comic actress Victoria Wood.

At the time when Nella begins keeping a regular Mass Observation diary, and where this quiet and understated drama begins, she is middle-aged and depressed, the mother of two sons whom she loves dearly – but they are adults, and her youngest is volunteering for the Army, while her husband is distant and overbearing. But in a strange manner, the war with all of its terrors, uncertainties and deprivations turned out to be liberation for Nella Last. She also volunteered for the local Women’s Voluntary Service, a charitable organization which eventually saw her running a kind of thrift shop to benefit Prisoners of War in Germany, taking it on with a great deal of cheerful and authoritative purpose.

Between dedicated diary-keeping and volunteering with the genteel ‘ladies of Britain’ auxiliary, Nella Last grew into or discovered her own innate strengths and abilities, as she tried to keep some kind of home life going for the benefit of her husband and sons… and herself. Not much of a big dramatic war story here, just a quiet and beautifully detailed account of life on the home front in 1940s Britain. All the big scenes are small and quiet things; one of the most touching is one where Nella and her husband have a quiet bedtime conversation… but it is while they are in bed in the Morrison shelter (a sort of load-bearing steel and mesh-sided table, provided as a sort of DIY home-air-raid protection), in anticipation of a German air raid on Barrow. It’s kind of endearing, that it took that kind of moment for him to open up.

Extras are on the sketchy side, the most notable of them being a text interview with Victoria Wood. Who appears to be practically unknown as far as American television is concerned. Good thing, bad thing – the reader decides, but this video is a good way to begin an acquaintance with her. The DVD is available from Acorn Media.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com.

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