Much heralded and overdue first drama from the BBC covering soldiering in the Iraq conflict, which for me however ultimately sank under the weight of its over-earnest convictions, unlikely coincidences,and too many concessions to prime-time TV drama.
All the various things I suppose we've heard about and would expect to figure in a dramatisation such as this are topically present and correct, from Iraqi attitudes towards women, the emotional stresses that soldiers have to endure, both on tour and trying to re-acclimatise back home with their families, the rise of mercenary/security firms usually from the ranks of disaffected soldiers and the hostage-taking practices carried out by the young hard-line Iraqi insurgents. There was even an unpleasant reminder (ditto the near-execution scene) of the harrowing real-life mob-slaying of two trapped soldiers from recent memory.
There was all this and more spread over three hourly episodes but to this viewer there was too much of everything. From these three very different soldiers, the bond among whom I didn't think was initially conveyed strongly enough to justify their continuing up-and-down camaraderie, emanated just too many plot strands which served to overwhelm the believability of the piece.
Then there's the over-abundance of coincidences strewn into the plot, from James Nesbitt's character Mike Swift's Iraqi doctor lover being married to the hospital manager with whom Danny & former US soldier Lester negotiate their security contract, to Hibbsy being the very soldier kidnapped by the terrorists, miraculously sprung just as he's about to be executed by beheading, to Nesbitt's son joining the Army to follow his dad, only to wind up terrified and very dead at the low-key conclusion; as I said earlier, there seemed to me far too much of almost soap-opera type climaxes inserted to heighten the action. I wasn't convinced by Nesbitt's romance with the Iraqi doctor who herself brutally pays the ultimate sacrifice for being seen to collaborate with the enemy, their love scenes awkward and stiltedly written and played, ditto his scenes with his wife back home and worst of all the embarrassing sub-soap argument between Hibbsy and his pacifist sister. Too many lines came over as scripted and unnatural.
The acting I found mixed too. James Nesbitt (BBC's resident street-tough character) can drop a tear on demand but failed to demonstrate great range, whilst Stephen Graham as the sex, drugs & booze fuelled Danny, ready to drop his trousers for more reasons than one also failed to convince me that he can do anything other than border-line deranged wide-boy. Best was Warren Brown as the "third man", the only one to really convince me through his eyes of his confusion, depression and sense of alienation. The actors portraying the Iraqi husband and wife doctors were also fine and the depiction of war-torn Iraq was realistic and moving at times.
The deliberately downbeat ending, for once unadorned by over-intrusive background music (or elsewhere by some fairly irrelevant and incongruous modern songs - we got the likes of Amy McDonald of all people over the end titles), with Danny's pay-off line, in response to Swift's asking of him "What happened to you?" - "I came to Iraq", was again a bit too over-wrought for me.
I feel the story could have benefited more from concentrating on one man (or woman's) experience and playing up the mundane-ness of soldiering rather than the almost action-packed existence of the soldiers shown here. I watched it all the way through but whilst I was certainly held to attention by what I saw, for me the whole lacked ultimate truth and credibility.
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