I think it’s actually impossible for James Nesbitt to do a bad job; perhaps someone should challenge him to a bet on it? But I suspect if they did, they’d lose. The man really is a chameleon. It doesn’t matter what he’s in and whether it’s drama or comedy, he’s utterly believable and he proved to be so as soldier Mike Swift in last night’s first installment of Occupation. Also doing a fine job were Stephen Graham who played Danny and Warren Brown as Lee.
The action began even as the opening titles rolled with Mike, Danny and Lee stuck in the middle of a tense attack by insurgents during which they rescued a little Iraqi girl who’d had a lot of her leg blown off during the attack. One of the first things that stuck me was that visually, it looked a lot like a real documentary; it was shot as if the cameraman was literally following the soldiers, as would a documentary filmmaker. It greatly added to the realism of that scene.
Back to the storyline and once the lads went home, they found themselves in the no man’s land of civvy street where each struggled to find their place out of greens. Danny and Lee – also known as Hibbsy – went the route of becoming Risk Management Operatives which Mike scathingly equated to being no more or less than mercenaries. Danny was in fact in it for the lucrative business but Hibbsy reckoned he could really do some good and help solve Iraq’s problems.
Meanwhile, Mike had organised for the little girl to be brought to the UK for treatment and Aliyah, the battle hardened lady doctor, accompanied her. This threw the pair together often and Mike found himself falling hopelessly in love with her, but given he’s married, it was a love he fought against but was losing daily…
From the get go, writer Peter Bowker’s story is enthralling. Of course we didn’t know these characters but within minutes, it felt like I’d been their mate for years. Not that the characters were transparent – they’re far from it – but they were instantly recognisable and I felt I could truly relate to them. Their hopes, their fears, their ambitions; all the spectrum of human colour has been subtly written into them and the effect was instant empathy. That’s a rare thing in drama I find, but Bowker’s writing carried it off beautifully.
And he did so with some laughs thrown in for good measure, which again, in a drama of this gravitas is quite a feat. For example, when Danny was back in Iraq and on his first job, he was required to dress as an Iraqi but when he found himself face-to-face with coalition troops – and with a gun in his hand – he rapidly realises that he could well be on the wrong end of a line of fire quite soon. So, he strips off, drops his gun and shouts,
“Look! Look! I’m English. I’m f**king English! I’m from Kirby!”
I noticed in other reviews of Occupation today that it was criticised by some for having that sort of comedic element but the fact is, comedy moments do happen, even in the midst of high drama and tension, so why should they not be part and parcel of Occupation?
I don’t imagine that in the thick of gunfire many jokes were bandied about over there at the height of the real conflict, but in less stressful times, I’m sure they would’ve been, so why not portray that humour in some form? The humorous elements were given as much screen space as human frailties and action packed dramatic sequences and didn’t, in my opinion anyway, detract from it at all. Quite the opposite in fact.
Part two is on tonight followed by the conclusion on Thursday and I’ll certainly be watching!