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Summer of Rockets (2019)

Summer of Rockets, Stephen Poliakoff’s latest work, is a six-part series for BBC Two, set in the UK during the tumultuous summer of 1958. As the Soviet’s launch the first intercontinental ballistic missile, and the Space Race begins, fear permeates the lives of all.

The series is inspired by Poliakoff’s own father, Alexander Poliakoff, who was an inventor and serviced Winston Churchill’s hearing aid while he was Prime Minister. Alexander, because of his Russian background, was suspected of trying to turn Churchill’s hearing aid into a bugging device so he could spy on Downing Street, and this caused him to be put under surveillance by MI5. In his new series, Poliakoff uses this as a starting point for his semi-autobiographical story set at the height of the Cold War. 

Summer of Rocketsfollows Samuel Petrukhin, a Russian born Jewish inventor and businessman, who specialises in manufacturing hearing aids. Having recently developed the ‘Staff Locator’, an invention that could revolutionise the way organisations communicate internally, Samuel is approached by the MI5 to demonstrate his work. Yet it emerges that it is not just his invention the operatives require – Samuel is tasked with obtaining information about his newly acquired friends Richard Shaw MP, and his wife Kathleen.

The atmosphere of the Cold War begins to close around the Petrukhin family as Samuel gets entangled deeper and deeper into a situation he finds he cannot control. Simultaneously with these events, we follow Kathleen (Keeley Hawes) attempting to unravel the truth about the tragic situation within her own family. She reveals her predicament to the Petrukhin children, the eight-year-old Sasha and the seventeen-year-old Hannah, and their lives become increasingly entwined with hers. 

During the course of the series, we also follow Sasha as he starts at his ferociously strict boarding school, seeing the adult world from his searching perspective. We also follow Hannah, as she enters her first season as a debutante, she can’t help but question the futility of learning how to curtsy in a world that is shaken by the threat of the atom bomb.  

A searing portrait emerges of Britain at the height of the Cold War, struggling with its identity after its international humiliation during the Suez Crisis.  

Summer of Rockets has an extremely strong cast, including Toby Stephens as Samuel Petrukhin, Keeley Hawes as Kathleen, Timothy Spall as Lord Wallington, Linus Roach as Richard Shaw, Mark Bonnar as the MI5 officer, Claire Bloom as Aunt Mary, Lucy Cohu is Miriam Petrukhin, Peter Firth as the school master, Lily Sacofsky as Hannah Petrukhin and Toby Woolf as Sasha Petrukhin. 

Premiering for six weeks at 9pm on Wednesdays on BBC Two from 22nd May 2019. Also available on iPlayer.