Tenko - Season 1 DVD set

Monday, 30 May 2011 11:12

Tenko, meaning ‘roll call’, follows the lives of British, Australian and Dutch women held as prisoners of war by the Japanese after the invasion of Singapore in 1941. It is quite simply a great drama. One of the first series to feature a predominantly female cast, it was also one of the first to embrace many subjects that had been thought of as taboo before. Throughout the series, the prisoners are subjected to cruel and barbaric treatment at the hands of their captors but the women maintain a dignity and grace that seems almost impossible to comprehend.

The story begins by following the lives of Marion Jefferson and her husband, Clifford, a Brigadier in the Army.  Marion is missing her son, who is away at boarding school in England. She wants to return to him, but Clifford does not want her to take the long and dangerous journey home. The war in Europe is worsening and their son is relatively safe in the English countryside having been evacuated. We also meet Rose Millar and Bernard Webster, a journalist who is disheartened at not being able to report the news truthfully. He and Rose are fully aware of how dangerous the situation is in Singapore.

Tenko - Season one on DVDWhen the Japanese launch a surprise attack on the island, the inhabitants finally have to accept that the war has reached their doorstep. Clifford now wants his wife to leave, and reluctantly she does, boarding a ship to Australia with hundreds of others fleeing the invading forces. The ship is torpedoed, the survivors make it to shore on a smaller island, and are captured by the Japanese.

Separated from the men, the frightened women are imprisoned in a POW camp in squalid conditions. Here they are joined by other captured women and have to create some semblance of a life.

The series stars many well-known actors. Rose Millar is played by Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys, Dynasty, Bad Girls). Louise Jameson (Doctor Who, Bergerac, Eastenders) plays Blanche a cockney who will use underhand means to get what she wants and Stephanie Cole (Waiting for God, Keeping Mum, Doc Martin) plays the officious Dr Mason.

Mention must also be made of their Japanese captors; Burt Kwouk (Cato in the “Pink Panther” films, Doctor Who, Last of the Summer Wine) is the camp’s commandant, Major Yamauchi, who although firm with the women does occasionally show a softer side.

This series really does deal with the harsh realities that these women faced; they are forced to cope with many situations that women of their standing would not come across before their capture. Dr Mason immediately sees the need for hygiene in the camp and sets groups of women to the task of cleaning their huts and latrines with their bare hands.

Some of the women use their bodies to get what they need, using their sex to bribe the guards for cigarettes, and other items needed about the camp.

When Blanche and Rose try to escape they are punished harshly as a warning to the other women. Some of the scenes are quite harrowing to watch, particularly with the knowledge the series is based on real-life experiences.

Man’s inhumanity to man and the sheer futility of war is highlighted throughout the series. The women are caught in the middle of a conflict they did not cause, and have to pay the price. It is gritty and alarming in equal measures, educational and gripping.

An extremely well-written and acted series, you will not be able to settle for one episode at a time as you will want to know what happens next in the lives of these brave and resourceful captives.

Tenko: The Complete First Series (1981) has a running time of 516 minutes (approx) and is released on a four disc DVD set on 6 June 2011 courtesy of Acorn Media UK.  Carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £22.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com   

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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