Romola Garai: ‘The Windermere Children struck a chord with me’

Romola Garai on her uplifting factual drama The Windermere Children about child Holocaust survivors who were brought to the Lake District to recover

Filming BBC2’s real-life drama The Windermere Children deeply moved Romola Garai as the emotional film had parallels with her own family story.

The drama explores how 300 children from Europe who had survived the Holocaust were sent to Lake Windermere as part of a rehabilitation programme. Romola plays Marie Paneth, one of the caring volunteers who helped rebuild the children’s lives. And the actor felt there were echoes with her own paternal ancestors’ arrival in the UK from Hungary in the early 20th century.

“It was something my family lived through and I connected to,” she told us. “What struck a chord was that my father’s family emigrated to the UK before the war. They still had family in Hungary though and had to acclimatise themselves to information coming through about the concentration camps. They were that first generation who learnt what human beings can do to each other on that scale. With this, the attempt to bring these children to the Lake District was part of that sense of, ‘How could this have happened and we didn’t know?’”

The young cast of The Windermere Children and the real-life Holocaust survivors

The young cast of The Windermere Children and the real-life Holocaust survivors who they portray

Romola was thrilled to play Marie. And she admired the work Marie did with the children as they struggled to adjust to life in a new country.

“Marie was an incredible person who worked with art therapy and play therapy,” explained the star of The Hour and The Miniaturist. “These people understood that the human experience had to be about more than just survival. It had to be about happiness too, and they were trying to generate that feeling in the children again. The staff had wonderful intentions. They were courageous people. It’s very moving.”

The Windermere Children airs on BBC2 on Monday 27 January at 9pm

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