LORNA CORBETT (43) has one twisted heart but if she can clear out the thickets of her past struggles, it just might blossom. Born in 1900, Lorna’s kept pace with her century; she survived the Depression and met her husband Bob at age 18 before he shipped out to the Great War. When their affair left her pregnant, they married. Upon his return, Bob was left a broken man, shell-shocked and paralyzed, and their dream of a happy life vanished. Lorna’s two sons now fight overseas while her daughter Sheila works long hours as a nurse’s assistant at the Toronto veteran’s hospital. Lorna quietly relishes her new job as it’s a chance to escape an oppressive home. Although she’s earned money before to keep her family going, it’s only now with her regular paycheques that the Great Depression ends. While Lorna watches those around her thrive under the shifting world, she wonders if she’s arrived too late to the party. Her sex life reduced to brief scrabblings, Lorna has almost forgotten she has a body. While secretly fascinated by the women around her with their blossoming sexuality, and expanding horizons — Lorna’s jealous of their happiness, and determined not to let them make the same mistakes she did. Lorna’s high standards make her a perfect “matron,” assigned to observe, correct and report on other factory girls. Lorna is especially resentful Gladys and seeks to break the spirited girl, even though (or because) she recognizes her own long-lost exuberance. If Lorna can’t be popular, she can at least stop other people’s fun.
GLADYS WITHAM (22) is a wild child. The only daughter in a wealthy Rosedale family, Gladys’s privileged life has made her fearless with a boundless (some might say reckless) appetite for life. Gladys always got what she wanted; only what she wants is now changing. Like her idols Katherine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart, she’s an original, eager for her own adventure. Although a privileged life has many advantages, it can also be suffocating. Her cunning father Rollie works to expand the family’s supermarket empire (and lobbies for profitable military contracts) while her gracious and ever-composed mother Adele lives insulated by her wealth, medicated by liquor, and is with preoccupied by getting her daughter to marry before she disgraces herself. Fate has forced Adele to put all her dreams in Gladys, since her only other child Gladys’s older brother Laurence died two years ago after crashing his car into a ravine, which never felt entirely accidental. The death has torn apart the family, which in typical WASP fashion, never faces its emotions. Given these silent and oppressive pressures, Gladys considers the war an escape and eagerly takes up an office job at Victory Munitions. After seeing what the other women do on the factory floor, Gladys wants to get her hands dirty. Turning down the clean office job given to wealthier hirees, she insists on “working the floor.” Gladys is drawn to this most difficult and dangerous work as a way to feel alive, to connect with “real women” and feel life’s blood coursing through her. Struggling yet unsinkable, cultured yet innocent, sexual yet naïve... Gladys embodies the tensions of the time. Coming of age at a time of no guidebooks, she unabashedly celebrates life’s gifts, knowing that if she doesn’t now, there might never be a chance.
KATE ANDREWS (24) lands in Toronto on a raft of secrets. She’s eager to please and gifted at lifting spirits — in a large part due to a staggeringly talented singing voice. Beneath her smile is a sheltered, insecure girl beginning to find her way in the world. She struggles to grasp the new techniques (as she was never trained) but works to find her way in this new city. She’s on the run from her abusive street-preaching father and she needs this job. While she’s fascinated by the wealth and confidence of Gladys, it’s her friend Betty (who bunks across the hallway at the rooming house) who unexpectedly becomes Kate’s best friend. Cobbling together a new identity, Kate appears to have evaded detection and punishment...so far.
BETTY McRAE (28) is a recent arrival from rural Saskatchewan who moved to Toronto for work. She still keeps the newspaper ad that changed her life: “Girls, Girls — we need you out east making the guns.” An early arrival to Victory Munitions, Betty quickly rose through the ranks to be a well-regarded worker who doubles as Blue Shift’s on-floor trainer of the new workers. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Betty’s no stranger to hard work. When her mother died eight years ago, she quit school to tend to her father and brothers. Tough and lean as a strip of jerky, Betty has a fiery temper and can hold her own with the men around her. She had practice, defending herself against her father and brothers who took every advantage of a young, vulnerable woman. She fled her troubling past to live and work in a more “female” milieu, with fewer of the men she mistrusts. Yet she struggles to connect within this new sisterhood. While others laugh and banter, Betty, with her flinty exterior – “we’re killing Krauts, people” – rarely gets the joke. Among her new trainees, she finds Gladys frustratingly naïve, but in time discovers a grudging respect for her.Her hard attitude doesn’t apply to Kate. For some reason, Kate inspires her to be a kinder, better person, to show the patience and understanding she lacks with others. Betty doesn’t have the words to explain it, but we know... it’s love.
MARCO MORETTI (35) is Blue Shift’s materials controller, responsible for the raw materials coming into the factory, and the export of every finished bomb. He gained his experience from his family’s fireworks factory, and now supports his mother, sister and nieces as their sole breadwinner — his father’s been locked away in an internment camp alongside hundreds of other Italian immigrants. While he considers himself Canadian, he has found that since the war,he’s seen as a potential enemy, which is why he’s unable to enlist. Before the war, he and Lorna would have never met — spaghetti is still a foreign food — but at the factory, their fiery rapport that starts with a clash, shifts into a growing attraction.
JAMES DUNN (24) is smart, attractive, monied... and poised to take the world by storm. He’s a fundamentally decent man, one whose wealth and refinement haven’t resulted in snobbery. Still, having been largely sheltered from the world’s harsh truths, he’s woefully innocent about matters of the heart — and the body. While he is drawn to Gladys (his fiancé, with her free-wheeling spirit and is usually patient with her intensity), her exuberance often threatens to overwhelm him. It’s not that he’s a prude, it’s just that he’s got a lot to learn. In a world of soldiers, James chooses his battles carefully, preferring the fray of the men’s club to skirmishes in the trenches. As an American before Pearl Harbor, James has yet to feel that the war is truly his to fight.
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