British Actors Discover Their Grandparents’ Roles in WWII

Elisa Lichtenbaum | March 15, 2021


My Grandparents’ War will air on Sundays at 8 p.m., April 4 through April 25.

This new documentary series isn’t British drama, but it does center on the roles people played in world history. Take Lady Violet Bonham Carter, actress Helena Bonham Carter’s paternal grandmother and a woman ahead of her time. A mother of four and liberal politician, she volunteered as an air raid warden, campaigned for women’s rights, took a stand against Hitler and antisemitism – and was a marked woman on the Gestapo blacklist.

Discover her extraordinary story and more in My Grandparents’ War, a four-part series that follows four British actors as they examine the impact of World War II on their grandparents and families.

Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown, Harry Potter series), Mark Rylance (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Dunkirk, Masterpiece: Wolf Hall), Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, The English Patient), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman, The Dig) each host a one-hour journey into their respective family histories, traveling to historic locations to retrace their grandparents’ footsteps during World War II, which changed their lives forever.


The first episode follows Helena Bonham Carter (Sunday, April 4, 8 p.m.) as she explores the heroism of her grandparents in France and England during World War II. In London, she meets a woman whose father’s escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia was made possible by her grandmother Violet. She also investigates the story of her maternal grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, a Spanish diplomat who defied his government’s orders by issuing visas to help Jewish people escape the Holocaust as the Nazis invaded France.


Mark Rylance (Sunday, April 11, 8 p.m.) delves into the story of his grandfather, Osmond Skinner, who spent nearly four years as a prisoner of war in Japan. A banker with no military training, Skinner joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, was shot during a battle on Christmas Day, and was taken as a POW. Rylance’s views on war are tested as he uncovers the shocking story of how his grandfather survived Hong Kong’s notorious POW camps.


Kristin Scott Thomas (Sunday, April 18, 8 p.m.) discovers how her grandfather, Royal Navy officer William Scott Thomas, saved thousands at Dunkirk and survived some of World War II’s most devastating battles. Her journey is packed with revelation and emotion as she meets the families of people her grandfather saved and veterans who served alongside him.


In the fourth episode, Carey Mulligan (Sunday, April 25, 8 p.m.) travels to Japan to learn about her grandfather’s experience as a British naval officer during World War II. A teenager from the Welsh Valleys, Denzil Booth traveled thousands of miles to fight the Japanese military in the final months of the war. Mulligan immerses herself in Japanese military strategy of the era to better understand her grandfather’s experiences on Britain’s biggest warship — the first ever attacked by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft — and the devastation he witnessed.

Original funding for the PBS presentation of My Grandparents’ War was provided, in part, by Elaine and W. Weldon Wilson and by PBS.

My Grandparents’ War will be available to stream for 28 days following each broadcast on thirteen.org and via the THIRTEEN Explore app (thirteen.org/explore).