Hugh Fleming (Nigel Havers), a handsome, dashing lothario at Cambridge, enters the air force in 1939 as though the impending war will be a mere extension of a cricket match, only with considerably higher stakes.
“Let a chap get 40 winks while he’s waiting for those nasty Germans,” he says while poised to take off in his Spitfire.
But early on, he is shot down, and his face is horribly disfigured by burns. The handsome, dashing aviator is now a grotesque. The woman he was to marry deserts him. Children cringe when they see him. He has lost his identity, his sense of self, his assured future.
The story focuses on Hugh’s ultimate determination to rise above the physical agony of plastic surgery and on the emotional anguish of redefining himself. It is a wrenching story, imaginatively structured and told by screenwriter Allan Prior.
Havers gives a striking performance, as does James Fox as the innovative plastic surgeon who treats the aviator. The supporting cast is unfailingly solid.
This is a quality drama done with great skill. The era and aviation scenes are also executed with authority and credibility.
But throughout, one wonders how this theme would be written as an American story from World War II or, for that matter, Vietnam, with the nuances and perspectives of our society. When it comes to longform drama, PBS is far more to do with England than its country of origin.