One of last year’s most pleasant surprises in the world of TV drama was Our Girl; a ninety-minute one-off show starring Eastenders’ Lacey Turner. I didn’t really know what to expect going into Our Girl but felt that Tony Grounds’ piece about a young girl from an underprivileged background training to be an army medic had real heart. Additionally it boasted a fine performance from Turner who played to her strengths as the gobby Molly Dawes who was forced to change her attitude in order to conform to army life. Due to its success both in the ratings and with critics I wasn’t surprised when Our Girl was commissioned for a five-part series. However I did worry that Grounds and his team would struggle to find storylines for Molly now that she had become a fully-qualified army medic.
Obviously they took the next logical step and deployed Molly to Afghanistan; a plot development that happens less than a minute into episode one. Grounds is also quick to show that Molly’s attitude hasn’t changed all that much as she is reprimanded by a senior officer for smirking during a group photo. The episode’s most prominent storyline is that of Molly’s relationship with cocky Welshman Smurf, who she previously had a brief liaison with round the back of a Chinese takeaway. Smurf is initially portrayed as a smug soldier but later shows hidden depths when he reassures Molly after she experiences first-day nerves. We later learn more of Smurf’s background, namely that his twin brother was killed by the Taliban before being dragged back to camp by Molly’s new commanding officer Captain James. Due to this incident, Smurf has a hatred of all Afghans whether they be friend or foe and Molly’s worries about her new friend’s mental state see her confide in James. Captain James, who looks like he’s just stepped off the catwalk at London Fashion Week, is another member of the platoon who is initially sceptical of Molly but warms to her as the episode progresses. Although a romantic subplot was an inevitable step forward for Our Girl I hope that this impending love triangle doesn’t overshadow what should be a drama about a young woman trying to succeed in a male-dominated environment.
That’s why I personally enjoyed the scenes in which Molly tried to input her training into her new surroundings but had struggles adjusting to the realities of war. The scene in which she is dragged into action on her first night at Camp Bastion is incredibly compelling thanks in part to cinematographer Nick Dance dragging us into the heart of the action. Additionally the dizzying editing makes the audience understand Molly’s confusion as we understand how out of her depth she feels. Whilst Our Girl did continue at a breezy pace following this scene, the last fifteen minutes were incredibly action-packed and had me on the edge of my seat. The way the camera followed Molly through a minefield as she attended to a fallen Smurf was particularly gripping especially after one of the mines was detonated. Throughout these scenes I was completely rooting for Molly to succeed in her mission and prove that she could succeed in this high pressure situation. In addition I enjoyed Molly’s relationship with local girl Bashira who becomes her surrogate sister as the episode progresses. However this relationship is met with scorn by Smurf and discouraged by the Captain who feels that Molly shouldn’t involve herself in the lives of the locals.
During the first half of Our Girl I was disappointed in with the amount of expositional dialogue that Grounds included in his script. The majority of the conversations were shocked-full of plot points most notably the one in which a fellow female medic explains Smurf’s background and why he was so quick to stick up for Captain James. A lot of the early scenes also felt clichéd as Grounds appeared to want to show how out of her element Molly truly was. Despite the fact that Molly had to portrayed as the underdog, I felt it was a little unrealistic how many times she was out of her element before she finally proved herself to the platoon. That being said Molly’s heroic moment was beautifully written and it was at that moment that Grounds made me truly care about our lead protagonist. I do feel that Grounds needs to fully flesh out some of the supporting members of the platoon because at the moment they’re all sort of blending together. I’d like to see more from Fingers, Mansfield Mike and the rest so I hope that Grounds has plans for some of these characters throughout the rest of the series.
I did feel that Lacey Turner gave a Bafta-worthy turn in the last year’s one-off as she portrayed Molly’s growth fantastically. However I wasn’t as impressed with her performance in this opening episode as for the most part she had to act confused and doe-eyed to portray Molly’s concerns about her new situation. I don’t think I can fully criticise Turner for this as she is only doing what the script asks of her but I felt that her performance wasn’t as strong as it was the first time round. That being said I felt that Turner really excelled in the action scenes and she thrived at making us believe that Molly could actually save the day. Similarly I felt that Turner was enjoyable in some of the episode’s quieter scenes in which Molly was simply bantering with her two potential love interests. Turner and Iwan Rheon bounced well off one another as they both made you believe that their characters had previously had an awkward encounter together. Turner also shared an easy chemistry with Ben Aldridge who was totally believable as the authoritative Captain James.
Overall I felt that this opening episode of Our Girl was a mixed bag of clichéd moments and gripping sequences that had me on the edge of my seat. Although Turner’s turn wasn’t as accomplished as it was in last year’s special she still showed that she could lead a series and impressed in Molly’s action sequences. Despite being incredibly patchy, I found Our Girl an incredibly easy watch and by the end I felt myself fully invested in Molly’s quest to prove herself. My main worry is that Our Girl will be crushed in the ratings by the juggernaut that is Downton Abbey and therefore won’t be seen by a wide audience. But I think it’ll be a shame if this happens as Tony Grounds’ drama is an engaging, contemporary alternative for those who are fed up of bonnets and mansions dominating Sunday nights.
What did you think with Our Girl? Are you going to stick with the entire series?
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