After over a year in captivity, this is the episode which finally sees Rose and Bernard reunited beyond the wire. Their meeting is dangerous, romantic and, ultimately, tragic. In the history of television drama it seems unlikely that any other set of gunshots have ever been as heart-stopping and gut-wrenching as those that ring out at the episode’s startling conclusion.
Since the start of this second series, Rose’s scenes have almost exclusively concentrated on her desperation to learn about the men’s camp and Bernard’s wellbeing, a focus that may have partly been dictated by her lack of a true friend – due to Blanche’s absence – as much as by the length of her imprisonment. As such, it is hardly surprising to find that once she knows that Bernard is alive and well she is unable to think about anything else. Upon receipt of her first message from Bernard, it is a nice touch that Rose visibly finds it a wrench to destroy his tiny handwritten note, given it represents their first contact since they were interned.
Rose’s rendezvous with Bernard provides a neatly plotted opportunity for her long-overdue reconciliation with Blanche. Some time has passed since the events of the last episode, so Blanche has even less excuse than it might appear to be still bearing her grudge. The situation between them is initially not made any better by the fact that Rose and Christina now appear to be as ‘thick as bloody thieves,’ but it soon transpires that Rose is not truly interested in Christina’s friendship, merely her courier skills. It feels appropriate that it takes straight-talking Joss to get Blanche to acknowledge that there are two sides to the story that destroyed their friendship and that she is now behaving unfairly by refusing to make up with Rose (although the argument forwarded by Joss that the latter lost her ring, as well as the equivalent food she could have bought with it, doesn’t seem to be the most convincing reason for Blanche to bury the hatchet). However, Blanche’s pride still prevents her from making the first move, and it is only when Rose provides a reason why she should postpone the planned acts of sabotage that the pair start to find their way back to the friendship they once had.
Blanche’s initial response to Rose’s request to cancel her plans, which mistakes her reasons (‘I understood the minute I come here. You’ve all caved in, that’s what!’), demonstrates how strongly Blanche feels about the women’s apparent current deference to their captors. This, together with Rose’s unexpected response (‘I agree’), Marion’s confession at the discipline committee that she shares Blanche’s and Joss’s frustration, and the latter’s continual acts of sabotage (which include an underpants-swiping escapade!), suggest that many of the women now share a common mood, indisputably born out of the way their current camp is run and the fact that they have now been interned for over a year. This dissatisfaction and the resulting desire to take action is a theme which will recur in the following episode as we even see Marion, of all people, turn to sabotage out of frustration.
Just as Rose asked of Beatrice in the previous episode: ‘Why should I care about a common little tart?’ here, in parallel, Blanche tells Joss the reverse: ‘I don’t know why we got on so well. Stuck up cow she is!’ The pair are opposites and yet, as Blanche recalls: ‘We sort of clicked, laughed at the same things.’ There is another parallel here, which stretches back much further than a single episode, between the scene in the wash-house in which Rose prepares to leave the camp, and the wash-house scene in the first series in which Blanche was preparing to do the same. Even theft from Mrs Van Meyer is replicated. This similarity of setting and feel serves to emphasise just how long it has been since the pair last considered each other to be friends. Of course what also connects the two scenes are the brilliant and understated performances of Beacham and Jameson, who project genuine sentiment and say as much with their eyes as they do with Jill Hyem’s script.
The depth of Blanche’s friendship with Rose is repeatedly emphasised throughout the remainder of the narrative. This is first demonstrated when, to Rose’s immense relief, she offers to accompany her into the jungle (perhaps partly as an apology for her recent behaviour): ‘Won’t be much fun out there on your own,’ a selfless act which she chooses to play down in typical Blanche style: ‘Lesser of two evils – I didn’t fancy that Nip version of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’!’…
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.