Mail on Sunday (10.1.99)
Mission Almost Accomplished
Given the current conflict with Iraq, the grim topicality of BBC1's adaptation of Andy McNab's best -selling Gulf War memoir, Bravo Two Zero certainly demanded an audience. Shown in two blasts over successive nights, Bravo Two Zero made for tense viewing in a visceral, armchair gripping fashion. As the eight man mission to neutralise Saddam's Scud missiles begins, the scenes were of comradely confidence, with the soldiers posing for a team photo. But once in the desert, a series of misfortunes left the men stranded. Well-armed but lacking sufficient intelligence about task or terrain, the squad was quickly shorn of radio contact.
Once they were spotted by Iraqi troops, Sean Bean. as Sgt McNab, decided to strike out for the sanctuary of the Syrian border. The ensuing firefight, as the patrol turned on its heavily armed pursuers, was a cinematic tour de force, brilliantly choreographed by one of our best action directors, Tom Clegg. But after a second battle at a checkpoint, McNab is captured, and the programme moved into even darker territory. Beaten, gruesomely tortured and interrogated, McNab holds out long enough to avoid compromising other SAS missions. Bean earned his fee in these sequences of degradation, revealing the soldiers iron-hard will that must balance the gung-ho, adrenaline rush of action.
Attempts were made to reveal McNab's thoughts by way of prosaic voice-overs, but this device didn't work in the context of unemotional fighting men, working by instinct to survive; none of them seemed likely to burst into war poetry. Had we seen more of the wives glimpsed in the opening scenes, or perhaps the mission controllers, realising that the men were doomed, the story would have opened up. But none of the issues of war, or indeed the fallout from the mission, were explored.
Despite his collaboration with esteemed writer Troy Kennedy Martin, whose credits include The Italian Job and Edge of Darkness, the story remained McNab's, and almost claustrophobically so. He returned psychologically unscarred from his exploits, but still keen to 'slot' the two Iraqi torturers who had enjoyed their work too much. The other Arabs were drawn as meaningfully as the plywood targets on which the SAS men practice their shooting. This was the 'Iraqi Job' nothing more.
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