Fortunes of War TV Series Overview (1987)


Fortunes of War is a 1987 BBC television adaptation of Olivia Manning’s cycle of novels Fortunes of War.

It stars Kenneth Branagh as Guy Pringle, lecturer in English Literature in Bucharest during the early part of the Second World War, and Emma Thompson as his wife Harriet.

Outline (Novels)

Fortunes of War is the name given to a series of six novels by Olivia Manning that describe the experiences of a young married couple early in World War II. The series is made up of two trilogies: the books The Great Fortune (1960), The Spoilt City (1962), and Friends and Heroes (1965) comprise The Balkan Trilogy, while The Danger Tree (1977), The Battle Lost and Won (1978), and The Sum of Things (1980) comprise The Levant Trilogy. The novels were based on Manning’s personal experiences during the war.

The novels describe the experiences of a young married couple, Harriet and Guy Pringle, early in World War II. A lecturer and passionate Communist, Guy is attached to a British Council educational establishment in Bucharest (Romania) when war breaks out, and the couple are forced to leave the country, passing through Athens and Palestine and ending up in Cairo, Egypt. Harriet is persuaded to return home by ship, but changes her mind at the last minute and goes to Damascus with friends. Guy, hearing that the ship has been torpedoed, believes her to be dead, but they are reunited in the end.

The cycle also chronicles the pre-war and wartime experiences of the surrounding group of English expatriates who also find themselves on the move and the changes in Romanian society as the corrupt regime of King Carol II fails to keep Romania out of the war.

Outline (TV Series)

Guy Pringle and his new wife, Harriet, are members of the English community in Bucharest, Romania on the eve of World War II. After the war begins, they cross paths with diplomats, literary types, spies, penniless royals, gays, and lesbians, as they flee before the advancing Germany armies to Athens and then to Cairo.


  • Emma Thompson as Harriet Pringle.
  • Kenneth Branagh as Guy Pringle.
  • Charles Kay as Dobson.
  • Mark Drewry as Dubedat.
  • Ronald Pickup as Prince Yakimov.
  • Alan Bennett as Lord Pinkrose.
  • Harry Burton as Sasha Drucker.
  • Rupert Graves as Simon Boulderstone.
  • James Villiers as Inchcape.
  • Robert Stephens as Castlebar.
  • Esmond Knight as Liversage.
  • Michael Cochrane as Clifford.


Awards and Nominations

  • Wins (BAFTAs 1988):
    • Best Actress – Emma Thompson (jointly for this series and “Tutti Frutti”).
    • Best Costume Design – Christine Rawlins.
    • Best Design – Tim Harvey.
  • Nominations (BAFTAs 1988):
    • Best Actor – Kenneth Branagh (For the episode “The Lady’s Not for Burning”.)
    • Best Drama Series – Betty Willingale and James Cellan Jones.
    • Best Film Editor – Tariq Anwar.
    • Best Film Sound – Terry Elms, Ken Hains, Judith Robson and Kim Houldin.
    • Best Make Up – Elizabeth Rowell.
    • Best Original Television Music – Richard Holmes.


  • Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson met filming the TV series and married in real life (two years later).
  • In 1974, The Balkan Trilogy was adapted in three parts by Eric Ewens and produced by John Tydeman for the BBC.
    • The episodes were transmitted weekly from 09 to 23 September 1974 on BBC Radio 4.
  • Dame Emma Thompson had to wear several wigs throughout filming because her hair just wasn’t right for the role of Harriet Pringle.
    • Director James Cellan Jones described her hairstyle at the time as “monstrous”.
  • Filmed on a twelve million dollar budget, and shot all on-location.
  • Yugoslavia stood in for the scenes set in Romania.
  • Greece (1 month), Egypt (2 months), Yugoslavia (2 months), Ealing Studios (interior shots).

Fortunes of War Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • James Cellan Jones … (7 episodes, 1987).
  • Producer(s):
    • Richard Cox … associate producer (7 episodes, 1987).
    • Betty Willingale … producer (7 episodes, 1987).
  • Writer(s):
    • Olivia Manning … (novels) (7 episodes, 1987).
    • Alan Plater … (screenplay) (7 episodes, 1987).
  • Music:
    • Richard Holmes … (7 episodes, 1987).
  • Cinematography:
    • David Feig … (7 episodes, 1987).
    • John Record … (2 episodes, 1987)
  • Editor(s):
    • Tariq Anwar … (7 episodes, 1987).
  • Production:
    • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
  • Distributor(s):
    • BBC Video (2005) (USA) (DVD).
    • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (1987) (UK) (TV).
    • Masterpiece Theatre (1988) (USA) (TV).
    • Pony Canyon (1991) (Japan) (VHS).
    • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (1988) (USA) (TV).
    • Umbrella Entertainment (2011) (Australia) (DVD).
    • Umbrella Entertainment (2011) (Australia) (video) (VOD).
  • Release Date: 11 October 1987 to 22 November 1987.
  • Running Time: 60 minutes (per episode).
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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