During the Second World War, over 1.1 million Canadian men strapped on their boots, buttoned up their uniforms, and marched off to serve in the battlefields of Europe.
While they were gone, the factories still needed workers to produce supplies. 250,000 Canadian women tied back their hair, zipped up their coveralls, and got their hands dirty in factories building bombs and ammunition for their husbands, boyfriends, brothers, and sons.
There have been many wartime dramas about the sacrifices of brave soldiers fighting in battlefields abroad. However, the new series on Global Television “Bomb Girls” starring Meg Tilly (Agnes of God, the Big Chill) offers us a chance to see another side of the story and learn what it was like in the dangerous job of these factory women in Canada.
Filmed in Toronto, the six part series is a richly layered drama filled with realistic and believable characters and intense moments of emotion. Each woman on the assembly line has her own story and is fighting her own personal battle.
There is the struggle of rich girl Gladys, (Jodi Balfour) who is expected to be an obedient Daddy’s girl and socialite but dreams of pitching in and doing something real with her life. There is tough and gritty Betty (Ali Liebert) from rural Saskatchewan who has trouble connecting with her production line sisters and quiet, mysterious Kate (Charlotte Hegele) who has run away from an abusive father and is struggling to meet the demands of the new job.
Oscar nominee Meg Tilly headlines the cast as the tough-as-nails Victory Munitions Factory supervisor, Lorna Corbett. Strong, determined, and sometimes brash, Lorna stands up for herself and for her factory girls on countless occasions.
“What I love about Lorna is that she is complex, and a whole person,” Meg Tilly describes.
Lorna shows a brave face when challenged, but is also concerned about her two sons who are off in the midst of battle. “She is terrified that her boys are overseas.” explains Tilly. “She has that magical thinking that if she works hard enough maybe she can end the war and her boys can come home.”
It’s these types of realistic characters that make for great television. “No one is good, no one is bad.” Tilly describes, “Everyone is human and a mix of good behaviour and bad behaviour and everything in between,”
Tilly’s son Will helped her research for the role, finding resources online and vintage WWII footage on Youtube. She also looked at advertisements from the time period to understand the media image of how women were encouraged to do their part in the war effort, and yet also still seen as less capable than men.
“This was a time of huge change for women,” explains Tilly, “(Lorna) is walking a precarious line between a women’s world and a man’s world.”
“She is a strong person but she has to do it in a way that shows she is an acquiescent woman. She has to contain herself… she is leading a life of quiet desperation.”
The Canadian made show is filled with many dramatic examples of this dynamic, and it is fascinating to watch the intricate dance that these women weave around their traditional roles and the demands of wartime. Forced together in a time of need, this very diverse group of women come together and form a deep bond while their entire world changes around them.
By Kelly Dunning