Belfast Telegraph

BBC's The Last Post raises all the critical questions about a receding Empire

The British Army has been portrayed on TV many times, but new BBC drama The Last Post covers a period of military history many viewers won't know much about, Aden in the Sixties. Georgia Humphreys speaks to the show's stellar cast about what to expect from the drama

By Georgia Humphreys

Growing up in danger-filled Aden, Yemen, in the swinging Sixties with a father in the Royal Military Police - that sounds like a pretty memorable childhood, right?

So it's no surprise that Peter Moffat decided to write new BBC One drama The Last Post based on the experiences of his youth.

The six-part series, which has a stellar cast including Call The Midwife's Jessica Raine, centres on a unit of officers and their families based far away from home in the mid-Sixties, with the constant threat of hand grenades, mines and sniper attacks.

"It was hard to get my head around living in that situation," Raine discloses. "There is something funny and disturbing about trying to maintain British values under those conditions, whilst blithely unaware that they're not welcome there."

So what can viewers expect to see happen as the insurgency takes a real hold in Yemen?

"The Last Post raises all the critical issues of a receding empire: what we leave behind, the arrogance, the mess, and the grey areas," Raine (35) continues. "The fact that there are no easy answers - no good guys and bad guys - makes it a great drama."

And while some may argue a TV series about love and war is a path well-trodden, for The Crown's Ben Miles, who plays Major Harry Markham, the focus on military policemen gives the show a whole other layer of drama.

"It's a story about how you maintain standards of behaviour within the army, which is a very pressing thing," the actor explains.

"We recently heard about this potential neo-Nazi movement in the British Army in the UK, and, you know, behaviour in Iraq over the years, interrogation of prisoners, all those cases that were brought against soldiers ... it's very much that, this unit is trying to maintain law and order within the army."

Miles adds: "The fact that Peter was out there as a child gave the whole piece an authenticity and an emotional engine that was really powerful and attractive."

As the casualties mount in Aden, one of the questions at the centre of the show becomes more pressing - is it right that the British Army is there? These sorts of themes, the cast members say, are relevant today.

"It's very difficult, isn't it, making these judgments as to whether we should go into a country and sort things out, and leave a country in an even bigger mess, you know?", suggests Amanda Drew, who plays Mary Markham in The Last Post.

"So clearly, it has major resonances with lots of places."

"There are lots of issues that come up in the show ... the role of the army in Yemen, the way the British Army treats insurgents and handles prisoners," agrees 50-year-old Miles.

He continues: "There are so many parallels in this story to what's going on globally now, and particularly in the Middle East.

"You sort of see this show and you read the scripts and you think, well, not much has changed in 50 years."

Jessie Buckley, the 27-year-old star of War and Peace, plays Honor Martin, and concurs about the script's timeliness.

"When you look at what's going on in Syria, Iraq and around the world, the sheer bravery that people have to have, day in and day out, and still hold on to their normal lives and find hope is incredibly relevant," she says.

One of the major themes of the drama is inspired by Moffat seeing his mother struggle between being what the army required her to be and what she felt like being. And Drew's character Mary faces similar challenges in her role as the officer's wife.

"I think she was very conscientious in making sure that the home is this sanctuary and haven from what has to go on in the men's world," says 47-year-old Drew, probably most recognisable for her role as May Wright in BBC soap EastEnders.

"Within the story she's really challenged as to whether to follow that obedience and serving her husband above her own thoughts and needs."

What about the other wives in the show - do they face struggles too? "She's very liberated in the way she thinks and acts," Raine says of her character Alison Laithwaite, a woman ahead of her time who throws herself into drinking and dancing at every opportunity.

"Everything about her is forward-looking and she needs constant entertainment and stimulation. To be quite literally locked away in a compound on an army base is a very real hell for her."

Inevitably, the show has plenty of interesting relationship arcs into which viewers can delve, but particularly when it comes to RMP Captain Joe Martin and his wife Honor. The newly-married couple arrive from England in the first episode, and seem to have a battle of attitudes over their positions in Aden.

"I actually think the modern one is Honor," reveals newcomer Jeremy Neumark Jones, who plays Joe, and is full of enthusiasm for his first major TV role. "She is the one who's kind of willing to break these taboos, break these boundaries, asking questions. And Joe is constantly saying, until episode four or five, 'you can't ask me that', 'you shouldn't be behaving in this way', 'you shouldn't be hanging out with these people'."

"(Honor's) story is a real coming of age," adds Buckley.

Families of giraffes ambling by was just one of the memorable sights the cast and crew saw on their drive to work while spending time filming in South Africa.

"What struck me a lot was most days when we were not in the studios in Cape Town, we'd be out on location, and about two hours before the day started the snake wranglers would come in and just sort of scout the place," says Miles. "I never saw one snake. I was really disappointed!"

So did any exciting wildlife nearly end up on the camera reel? "At the end of my first scene, three baboons had climbed up onto the rooftop," recalls Drew. "It was just out of shot actually, which was lucky because we'd have had to go again. "They are scary ... but at a distance it was just majestic to see."

  • The Last Post, Sunday, BBC1, 9pm

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