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Connecting the generations: PBS series looks at four actors’ families and the impact World War II had on their lives

Family history.

It can often be full of surprises.

In the PBS four-part series, “My Grandparents’ War,” four British actors take a journey into the past to understand the impact of World War II on their families.

The series features Helena Bonham Carter, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas and Carey Mulligan.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter in Stockton, Wiltshire beside the grave of her father. (Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

The second episode with Rylance will air at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 11 on New Mexico PBS. The next two featuring Scott Thomas and Mulligan air at 7 p.m. on April 18 and April 25, respectively.

Bonham Carter’s episode will air again on May 2.

“From the beaches of Dunkirk to the former site of a POW camp in Hong Kong, the actors retrace their grandparents’ footsteps during the conflict,” says Lesley Norman, executive producer for WNET. “Combining key elements in history with genealogy, the series uncovers universal themes of love, courage, and self – sacrifice, and the remarkable stories of ordinary people drawn in the world’s most horrific wars.”

Each of the actors found the people to be interviewed to help tell their family story.

Actor Mark Rylance travels to Hong Kong. His grandfather Osmond Skinner was held as a POW in Hong Kong for nearly four years during World War II. (Courtesy of Wild Pictures)

Rylance found out that both of his grandfathers were in Japanese prisoner of war camps – one civilian camp and one military camp.

“They contacted me and said, ‘You know, we would fly you there. But more importantly, we’ll put all of our researchers onto the question of what happened to them, if you are content with us to tell you that information in front of the camera. So, we’re not going to tell you before, but we’ll take you to a location,’ such as the location where one of my grandfathers fought against the Japanese on Christmas Eve, ‘and then we’ll tell you what happened to him, from letters and evidence that we have,’ ” Rylance says. “They also allowed me to bring my father. And though he only appears for a moment in the film, he was there with me at every occasion, and we were able to speak and weep together and laugh together and talk together during the whole thing. So, you know, who wouldn’t like that kind of experience in your life? It was very, very rich. The film’s just the kind of top part of the richness of it for me.”

Meanwhile Bonham Carter says the production process was very well set up and gave her the opportunity to learn more about her history.

“And, also, what it gave me the opportunity was having these conversations with the different generation, the existing generation, my mother’s generation,” Bonham Carter says.

“So, I had these very personal conversations with my uncle and his cousin, his relatives and my mother. And going back to places, which, for instance, David hadn’t been back to his childhood home for a long time. And it was very healing for them, too,” she says. “So, it was very moving for everyone. So, I know that I did a favor in accepting it, not only for myself, but for my uncle, who I think completed his whole life, in a way, was trying to give some recognition to his father and what he did. And I think it was very – it was very moving and a real gift, yes.”

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