Once again Louise Jameson’s ballsy Blanche Simmons commands centre stage in an episode which primarily focuses on her daring plan to escape. However, an equally significant parallel development is Marion’s growing respect for Yamauchi and her belief in his humanity, a development which is set to have direct consequences for Blanche.
Before either of these storylines receive attention, the episode opens with an incredibly affecting sequence as one of the prisoners is forced to say goodbye to her son who is being sent on to the men’s camp. At first it seems that the woman in question has reconciled herself to the loss, indeed Sally comments: ‘You’d think she was seeing him off to boarding school’; however, the woman is unable to hold her feelings in for long and is soon pulling at the camp gates like a lunatic, screaming for her son. While this sight is arresting enough, the scene that follows, in which all of the women bravely round on Sato as he threatens to punish her, is one of the most powerful of the first series. Unafraid and determined to show their defiance, the women’s intimidating solidarity as they make for Sato is heightened by inspired and claustrophobic direction which sees the Lieutenant back towards the gates (and the camera), completely unable to stop the tide. Only Marion can stop the women taking matters further and, significantly, turns her back on her captor as she calmly seeks to dissipate the gathering. Marion’s innate serenity and strength of character lead her to reply to Sato’s furious threats of punishment with the simple line: ‘As you wish.’ The implication is clear: these women may be prisoners of war but their spirits remain undefeated.
The motivation for Blanche’s escape is in part due to events that occur earlier in the narrative: Yamauchi’s propaganda postcards; Judith’s somewhat inevitable death; and Beatrice’s desperate plea for morphia. Blanche’s reaction to the latter shows that she has now run out of patience and is sick of being used in this way; as she says to the doctor: ‘The tart with the heart of gold only belongs in Hollywood movies!’ It’s hard not to have sympathy for her position, especially as Beatrice is asking so much. Their exchange on this subject includes one of the funniest lines of the episode, as Blanche suggests that the Dutch, and specifically Mrs Van Meyer, should ‘play up to the bloody Nips’: ‘She’s going to moan anyway, she might as well do it in mock ecstasy!’
The character of Dutch woman Gerda, a solid enough performance from Maya Woolfe, is reintroduced here solely for the purpose of providing Blanche with more foundation for believing that her escape is viable, due to Gerda’s knowledge of the terrain and the fact that her former servants must still live nearby. What is not referred to is the fact that it would be highly unlikely that these servants would help a Western woman after the Japanese invasion, not only because of the fear of reprisal, but because some locals would have now regarded the former Dutch rule as oppressive and have enjoyed greater opportunities under the Japanese and their new Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Following on from her previously voiced concerns that she’d rather try her luck outside of the camp rather than rot inside of it, Blanche seems to almost morbidly fixate on their chances of survival. She sees Judith’s impending death as the thin end of the wedge: ‘Like ten little nigger boys, innit? Only there’s a hundred of us to go,’ although her fears become more understandable once she reveals to Rose that she has overheard Beatrice talking about the threat of beri-beri, or worse: ‘And maybe even cholera, how do you fancy a dose of that?’ However, her fears also relate to her appearance, something which she previously took great pride in, hence her reluctance a few episodes earlier to lose her ‘crowning glory’. She tells Rose: ‘Not only death I’m scared of. Who wants to get out of here white-haired and toothless?’…
This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.