First look UK TV review: SAS Rogue Heroes
Ivan | On 06, Nov 2022
Mostly true. Those are the words that stick in the memory at the start of SAS Rogue Heroes, Steven Knight’s new series for BBC One. Telling the story of how a gaggle of blokey outsiders formed the titular special forces unit in 1941, it’s easy to see the appeal for the Peaky Blinders creator – to the point where the “mostly true” moniker feels a little too familiar. But Knight’s knack for combining anachronistic music and extravagant action with just the right actors to fit the material make the six-part thriller, well, thrilling to see in full flow.
The show drops us in the middle of the Second World War, as troops are attempting to make it from Cairo to the port of Tobruk. But as things take a turn for the worse, one soldier hatches a plan to bring some hope of turning the conflict in their favour. The idea? A parachute regiment that doesn’t attack from the air but takes down enemy supply lines from the ground – disregarding the rules and doing whatever it takes to succeed. When that proposal crosses paths with a fake regiment, invented to fool the other side, things escalate quickly and the SAS is born for real.
Based on Ben MacIntyre’s book of the same name, Knight’s screenplay crams in almost too much information in the opening episode, which is full of playful on-screen titles and rapid character introductions. But the more the show settles into its rhythm, the more time there is to enjoy not just the style of each knowing needle drop but the substance underneath it.
That substance delves into the psychology of the men so determined to be excused from the rules and do their own rebellious thing, into the frenetic mindset of warfare, into the gallow’s humour that reacts to life on the dangerous front line. But it’s also an enjoyable romp, and the cast nail the balance between recklessness and arrogance.
Sex Education’s superb Connor Swindells relishes the chance to take centre-stage and show what he can do as David Stirling, combining privilege and an ego with a grinning charisma and just enough self-awareness to make him smart. He’s joined by the always-excellent Jack O’Connell as Paddy Mayne, a poetic and overly passionate individual, and Alfie Allen as Jock Lewes, whose deadpan attitude is almost foolhardy. Dominic West as a smiling spy brings some variety to the table, while Sofia Boutella’s French intelligence officer Eve makes you wish that things weren’t so male-centric. But whether it’s someone ending up on the wrong side of a piano or a parachute set piece, SAS Rogue Heroes is a ride that’s always entertaining.