Author Topic: Occupation  (Read 2272 times)


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« on: June 19, 2009, 12:19:27 AM »

Three British soldiers who served together in Iraq, return to Basra for different reasons; one for love, one for money and the other believes he can help the stricken country. Over the next few years they are tested beyond breaking point.

Occupation is a BBC TV drama that has been shown in one hour episodes over the last three nights. It's a stark, human drama that happens to be set in Iraq. Unapologetically brutal, it is also strangely unassuming. Events unfold without embellishment. Shit happens? No, not really, it is far more measured and clever than just a simple tale of combat, and the characters have great depth. The plot doesn't hang about on any particular moment and sometimes jars as it jumps forward several months at a time, covering the bulk of the occupation over years, but this reinforces the sense of madness; nothing changes, nothing moves on, not really.

Often in reviews of Taxi Driver, it is described as a "circle of hell" in the tradition of Dante, and that is a perfect description of this story as the characters are tied to each other and the enigmatic, terrifying situation that is yet strangely comforting. The threads are straightforward, but twist together to cause consequence upon ironies, upon torments. As a drama it is superb and worth watching just to see how good TV can be, because it's hard to predict anything when the situation is always one step ahead ready to undo any sort of good intention. In a way, it's a kind of Karma, except nothing good happens.

Take the opening scene, where Mike (James Nesbitt) rescues a girl injured in a grenade attack. He becomes a hero, the image of him charging across the street with her in his arms is splashed across the papers. But he's immediately caught up in political manoeuvring: "you're the hero, but I could get fired", an aide tells him when warning him to keep his mouth shut about opinions on Iraq. Later he begins an affair with an Iraqi doctor (Lubna Azabal). It has it's sweet moments, but bloody hell, they come at a hefty price.

If you come into this looking for some kind of enlightened view of the occupation, or some answers, you won't get any. By the end, many characters seem to have this bewildered expression, where all the arguments have been ran dry, but they are still there and the country is still tearing itself apart. Each of the main three characters have a huge part to play in each episode, but it's possibly Stephen Graham's very last line that sums up the whole thing. All three gave spellbinding performances, but somehow his seems to have the most resonance in that one comment.

It's easily the best story I've yet seen about Iraq and one of the best war dramas, full stop. There is action and convincing battle sequences, but no show-boating, no manly brothers in arms, no wisecracking sergeant majors calling troops "numbnuts". It's real and essential. A tough watch, but I really hope you seek it out.