‘My Grandparents’ War’ Reveals Surprising British Combat Stories of World War II

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Mark Rylance My Grandparents War
Mark Rylance learns about his grandfather's time in a Japanese POW camp in the documentary series "My Grandparents War." (PBS)

“My Grandparents’ War” is a British import documentary series that introduces four U.K. actors to details about how their ancestors served during World War II. Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”), Mark Rylance (Oscar winner for “Bridge of Spies”), Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient”) and Carey Mulligan (Oscar-nominated this year for “Promising Young Woman”) have unanswered questions, and the documentary aims to help them find answers.

The four-part series will air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on PBS, starting April 4. As with all PBS programming, make sure to check local listings. The program also will stream on PBS.org and in the PBS Video App.

We’ve got a clip from the April 11 episode that features Mark Rylance and his grandfather, Osmond Skinner, who spent almost four years as a Japanese prisoner of war. Skinner was a banker who volunteered for the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps and went into battle with no real military training.

Skinner was shot on Christmas Day, taken prisoner and sent to one of the notoriously brutal Japanese POW camps. As Rylance learns details about his grandfather’s harsh treatment and how he survived, his own opinions about war are tested by what he learns about the struggle.

In the April 4 episode, Bonham Carter learns how her Spanish diplomat grandfather defied his government to help Jewish refugees escape the Holocaust as Germany invaded France. Scott Thomas (April 18) learns how her grandfather served as a commanding officer in the Royal Navy and participated in the rescue at Dunkirk. Mulligan (April 25) finds out about her grandfather’s Royal Navy service in Japan aboard the first British ship to be attacked by a kamikaze aircraft.

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