TV: Occupation – Propaganda Or Proper Good Show?

By James

Back in 2009 I happened upon this cheeky BBC, 3-part drama by complete accident. After thoroughly enjoying James Nesbitt’s performance in Jekyll (One of my favourite TV programmes of all time), I had to see if Nesbitt was just as good in everything he does. As it happens, he is.

I guess this article is something of a recommendation, so you’ll have to excuse me for taking liberties. I wanted to share the programme with the world as I feel it was missed upon its release. As well as having its purpose, widely misinterpreted. I don’t remember a great deal of publicity being set aside for this little gem, even on the channel itself and it came and went, all within a month. For those that managed to catch it, whilst it was airing or on demand, the reception was much more positive than negative. However, I think it is unfair that it did not receive the praise and recognition it deserves - the directorial and writing duo of Peter Bowker and Nick Murphy created a combination full of tension, characterisation and intensity.

The premise is, essentially, 3 soldiers returning to active duty in Basra, for 3 entirely different reasons. Throughout the twists and turns of the plot, the programme successfully navigates a plethora of characters and several main narratives. Whilst the dissection of each character could, arguably, have been better presented if the focus was on a sole perspective, the show manages to effectively develop each arch clearly enough as to not lose its audience in the complexity. The lead, James Nesbitt, is incredible. The Irish bundle of emotion is powerful, meaningful and captivating in his performance. Supporting him are Warren Brown and Stephen Graham, who are also sensational. Their commitment to the roles is more than commendable. The gripping insights into the topics, challenges, and implications brought about by the war in Iraq are explored in a respectful and commemorative way. It drives home the possible repercussions and impact on the soldiers serving as well as their families, their country and its people.

With the program being, seemingly, void of any political stance on the matter, it cannot be classed as any form of propaganda or commentary on the diplomacy of the situation. Whilst it freely scrutinises the effects of said war, it does not offer any determinable judgement (other than war is bad but that is too generic to be applicable). You could argue that any reflection on the symptoms of a subject could be regarded as a perfunctory or intuitive criticism but I, personally, do not think it was intentional if that is the case; it is much more of a fictional character study than anything else. So, this then presents the programme as simply entertainment – an original display of creativity and flair. The purpose of the show, story, and everything in between is to present honest performances in intriguing plots.

The programme has been criticised for its ‘Hollywoodized’ set pieces and action, detracting from the realism it tries so hard to convey. To that, I say Balderdash! Codswallop! Poppycock! They’re missing the point. The realism doesn’t come from any of the ‘OTT’ scenes or displays, it might actually be the point! Anybody think about that? With all the grand-scale external factors seeming extravagant and glossy, I believe the intention was to show the audience where the real war is. Inside the men fighting it. Not once did I feel anything was being misrepresented or bored by the magnitude of it all; I knew what to focus on.

If you disagree or feel you can add anything to the above then get in touch, either through the comments or our Twitter page: @MugwumpsBlog

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