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Tenko: Complete Third Series Plus Reunion Special

(BBC; UK DVD: 8 Aug 2011)

The Last Roll Call: Tenko Series 3 and Reunion Special

So, choose a story based upon real life events from history. Already you’ve scuppered a lot of the potential for it because we all know how it ends. That was the argument my husband gave about not wanting to see James Cameron’s Titanic. Well then, what to do when the final days of the Second World War arrive? Once the women in the Japanese internment camp are released and repatriated, where do they go?


There could not have been a more elegant or intelligent finalé to a drama series as there is to this third season of the BBC’s Tenko. It could have finished there. With the repatriation in progress and the women reunited – or not – with family and loved ones. However the ends were tidied up, there was also room for more examination of the passage of their lives and so the hint was put in place for a five-year reunion. They all agree to meet at Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 1950. This brings us to the Reunion episode that is again, an intelligent and dignified means to bring things to a conclusion.


But there is far from a neat and tidy ending for their lives. Marion Jefferson (Ann Bell) had been the leader of the women in the camp. She was a confidante, mother-figure, rebel, organiser and spy for the cohort who depended on her to speak up for them and negotiate for their survival with the commandant Major Yamauchi (Burt Kwouk). Once reunited with her husband, she finds she has irreversibly changed. She must now negotiate a new sort of survival in the post-war society. Likewise, Sister Ulrika (Patricia Lawrence) describes her new mission, to ‘discover my vocation as a woman’.


The conflicts have not ended with the conclusion of the war. For many they are about to escalate. The setting of Singapore provides the backdrop of the Communist rebellion and the fight for independence in Malaysia. Christina Campbell (Emily Bolton) finds a new purpose as a teacher, but still faces rejection because of her mixed-race (half-Chinese, half-Scottish) background. Her pursuit for identity reinforces the message that conflict comes in many forms and the boundaries of right and wrong are often blurred. Wh,o after all, is the aggressor within a colonial context and a fight for independence?


Maggie Thorpe (Elizabeth Mickery) is a character who is introduced in the third series, just as liberation takes place. But she is given a history with the other women, which helps to make her part of their ‘group’. On liberation she celebrates a little too exuberantly with a soldier who absconds from the men’s camp. Without giving too much away, there’s no doubt that Maggie is an excellent mother for the first of the ‘baby-boomer’ generation. Nurse Kate Norris (Claire Oberman), the only Australian of the group, must also question her new role in society as a professional woman and fiancée of a severely wounded soldier whom she has not seen for four years.


Important points are made about the role of women in warfare and its aftermath amidst this drama. Most poignant is when Marion and Christina discuss the status of the graves of the civilian women and children who died during internment. They realise that they have ‘been left to the jungle’. No one has campaigned to bring them home or mark their place of rest as they do for the service personnel.


The continuation of life and place of optimism as part of the survival tactics of those that made it through is a well-placed dramatic device with characters allowed to show pain amidst celebration at freedom and humour in the face of grief. A fitting end.

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Dr Gabrielle Malcolm is a writer, artist and academic based in the UK. She is known for her publications on Victorian literature and culture and her writing on Shakespeare on stage, TV and Film. She has published alongside writers such as AS Byatt in 'The Dickensian' journal, and her performance art pieces were featured in the Liverpool City of Culture celebrations in 2008, at the Liverpool Tate amongst other venues. Recent publications include a chapter in 'Writing Women of the Fin de Siecle: Authors of Change' (Palgrave McMillan, 2011). She is an avid fan of the Gothic and the Neo-Victorian. Her literary blog 'A Special Mention' has many followers and she can regularly be found tweeting @gabymalcolm, with fellow Shakespeareans and fans of Gene Kelly.


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4 Aug 2011
The trajectory of the characters’ experiences is moving and powerful and reflects upon the fracturing of established beliefs and social values during wartime and imprisonment.
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