Published date08 November 2022
Publication titleSignal
SAS: Rogue Heroes might sound like a documentary on some dusty history channel lurking around the last pages of the TV guide, but Steven Knight’s first time back on the BBC since the end of Peaky Blinders is a big and brash adventure drama about the formation of the SAS in 1941. It is witty, pacy, confident, and, as you might expect, occasionally very violent

The show leans on a number of contemporary TV drama touchstones, from its use of anachronistic music, blasting out metal and rock over action scenes, to the familiar cheeky disclaimer about its veracity. It is, we are promised, ‘‘based on a true story’’ (as told in Ben MacIntyre’s book of the same name), but it is only ‘‘mostly true’’. In interviews, Knight has said that he had to tone some elements of it down, so that it wouldn’t stretch viewers’ belief.

Such myth-stoking only adds to the fascination, because the story that it does tell is frequently outrageous and often absurd. We begin with a convoy of trucks attempting to make its way from Cairo to the strategic port city of Tobruk, which doesn’t quite go to plan, before it drops into a quick catch-up about the state of World War 2 at this point. It does not mince its words. Unless there is a drastic shift in tactics, it is looking like the allies are ‘‘f.....’’. The swearing, the stencil-stamped title cards, the electric guitars: this is not your everyday war drama.

Enter television’s current favourite actors, ready to form a lads’ army of their own. It centres on the trio of Sex Education’s Connor Swindells, The North Water’s Jack O’Connell and Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen, playing renegade soldiers who each combine a death wish with total disdain for any sense of hierarchy or authority. I’m no military expert, but I always assumed discipline was quite a big deal in these circles. Not so, it turns out. You can smash your senior officer’s head against a piano when he interrupts your chess game, and there’s every chance you’ll manage to wriggle, or more accurately, scrap yourself out of it.

Swindells is Lt Archibald David Stirling, who has daddy issues and a drink problem, and who likes to goad Australians in bars after winning on the horses. O’Connell is Lt Robert Blair ‘‘Paddy’’ Mayne, who writes poetry and is, in the words of one of the sets of military police who try to imprison him, ‘‘a mental case’’. Allen is Lt John Steele...

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