Worthwhile Watching: Wish Me Luck

I recently discovered this British TV drama from the late 1980s, which is focused on British underground agents operating in occupied France during WWII. The series is based on activities of the real sabotage-and-subversion organization which was known as Special Operations Executive. I think it is quite good.

The first agents we meet are Liz Grainger (acted by Kate Buffery) and Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton.) Liz is an upper-crust wife and mother who comes to the attention of the SOE recruiters when she responds to a BBC request for holiday photos of France to help in military planning…her excellent French language skills and experience living in that country make her highly desirable as a prospective agent. Matty, from a much less-affuent background, is of mixed French-British parentage (also Jewish) and is eager to contribute to the war effort as an agent, partly because she hates Naziism and partly because of boredom with the factory work she has been doing.

Various newly-recruited agents and French local people make their appearance over the course of the series; continuity is provided by Colonel James Cadogan (Julian Glover) and his deputy Faith Ashley (Jane Asher) in London, in the roles that in real life were played by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.

Some reviewers have said that the series has too much of a soap-opera quality, and some have attributed this to the fact that it was created by two women (Lavinia Warner and Jill Hyem.) But people don’t cease to have personal lives when they go to war, and there are also subplots which could be viewed as soap-operatic in many male-written novels about WWII….Nicholas Monsarrat’s naval classic The Cruel Sea comes to mind. (See also Vera Atkins’ comment, at the above link, about a real-life British agent who fell inconveniently in love.)

Wish Me Luck is available from both Amazon and Netflix.

For those interested in learning about the real SOE, a good introduction can be found in Between Silk and Cyanide, the memoir of SOE Codemaster Leo Marks. I reviewed it here…the review also contains links to posts about several individual SOE agents.

10 thoughts on “Worthwhile Watching: Wish Me Luck”

  1. Oh My Gosh – Jane Asher was in one of the first Rumpole shows and was a stunner. (1978?). The last I heard she was selling cakes mail order from London –

    Thanks for the heads up – I have just gotten my old computer ready for streaming and will try Netflix.

    BTW if its writing is half as good as Foyles War (with its historical accuracy) it should be quite a series.

  2. Watching Wish me luck reminded me of some familly history: My uncle Vernon was part of an OSS operation group codenamed “Justine”. This group parachuted into Vercours in support of the uprising, and made it out to Grenoble after it failed.

    Thanks for the reminder….

  3. I am into the third episode – I think – from an intelligence perspective – it isn’t too realistic – but still good writing. So not to spoil anything won’t give my reasons.

    But i am in it for the ~20 episodes.

  4. In 1980 something “Wish Me Luck” was filmed and much WWII info was yet to be declassified. Last year I read “Double Cross” by Ben Macintryre and the reality of the situations and the personalities involved in espionage in France and England supporting D-Day (and the general war effort) is more interesting, stranger (and is even, IMO, bizarre) than the fictional accounts imagined in books or film.

    It is interesting to note that Germany thought they had several productive agents in Britain….they had not one. All were executed or they were turned (not really sure if they didn’t imprison some). I was also struck by the inefficiency of the German counter-intel and a bureaucratic tendency to be bribeable.

  5. I read a fascinating out-of-print book called Secrets of D-Day


    I will have to reread it – 2 thinkgs really stood out – something Stalin did – that caused the deaths of so many – was a german intelligence operation.

    And Wilhelm Canaris – hanged by the Nazis weeks before the end of the war I am wondering how much he helped the British – while i don’t think he was a “double agent” (the head of the Abwehr?) he did seem to help them on occasion.

    Fascinating book.

  6. Neville Shute spent the war working for the Ministry of Defense and, after the war, wrote a novel titled Most Secret in which he wrote a fictional version of his war work. At the time, much of the information was still not declassified but he was able to evade that by using fiction and his reputation as a famous writer.

  7. I just finished episode 6 and am really into it now. One thing really brought out – how your life would hang on the balance by the slightest mistake or slip – and how many of the French really collaborated with the Nazis.

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