A badly wounded airman has been found and hidden by a group of street children. Desperate for food and clothing, they attempt to sell him for a handful of Christmas treats ….
Given that a sense of repetition is unavoidable (oh look, it’s another important airman who has to be returned to Britain as quickly as possible) it’s always good when the series does something a little different.
The Group Captain (played by Mark Taylor) remains mute throughout – only occasionally opening his eyes and managing a smile before slumping back into unconsciousness. So since the focus isn’t on him (we don’t even learn his name) it can instead be directed towards the four grubby children who’ve found him.
They’re led by Wim (Keith Jayne). Easily the most experienced actor of the four, by this point Jayne had already racked up credits in a number of popular series (Upstairs Downstairs, Survivors, Angels, Rumpole of the Bailey, etc). Marie-Clare (Rachel Beasley) is his trusted lieutenant, with both taking it in turns to look after the two younger children – Bobo and Gaby (John Nani and Natasha Green).
Throughout the story there are numerous reminders that winter is really biting – with things made especially hard by the reduced rations and lack of fuel (Albert has secured a coal supply, but only because he was willing to pay way over the odds). Even the Germans aren’t immune to these cutbacks, with Kessler doing his best to eke some warmth out of his office fire.
Despite this, Monique and Natalie remain in a festive mood – even more so when the demands of the children reaches them. The items they request – clothing, jelly, a doll, etc – are piffling (in total, about the cost of a bottle of wine). So once the reluctant Albert gives the go-ahead, they begin to assemble the box of goodies with glee (Monique even going so far as to raid the till to give them a little extra cash!).
Throughout these scenes, Albert finds himself in the role of a stern father (with Monique and Natalie as a couple of unruly children) but there’s a sign that his bark is worse than his bite.When no-one is looking, he takes some notes from his wallet and adds it to the cash already pilfered from the till.
All this is quite low-key and touching, and that’s how the first half of the episode plays out (as a nice character piece, bereft of tension). But as we reach the conclusion of the story a sense of danger and anxiety begins to build.
Key scene of the episode, in terms of character development amongst the regulars, occurs between Kessler and Brandt. Kessler is concerned about Brandt’s excessive intake of alcohol, but Brandt is more concerned about the rumours he’s heard regarding German atrocities in the East. That the pair choose to have a row in the middle of the Candide only adds a little extra spice – as does the fact that after Kessler leaves, Monique (with Albert’s blessing) shares a drink with Brandt. Albert’s smug expression makes it plain that there could be a weakness to be exploited here.
Max continues to be a mild topic of conversation, with the others wondering what he gets up to when he’s not with them. The audience has long known about his Communist sympathies, but the other Lifeline members remain ignorant – for now.
Max keeps a watching brief on the children – even after they’ve handed over the airman – much to Albert’s puzzlement. Although when it’s revealed that Max was an orphan himself, things become clearer. The episode’s conclusion – a snow-covered Max gives the children some money before being forced by the Germans to move on – means that things end on a slightly hopeful note. Although with food and fuel becoming scarcer and scarcer, the situation still looks bleak for them.
Guests at God’s Table is a totally studio-bound story, but a well designed street set helps to give the “outdoor” scenes some depth. It’s another strong script from John Brason, SA‘s most prolific writer.