Based on the book by Ben Macintyre, Steven Knight’s SAS: ROGUE HEROES is a BBC historical drama series about the formation of the British Army Special Air Service during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. Infused with modern elements and plenty of energy, the series is a lot of fun, despite the lack of empathy I had for most of the characters.
In the early days of World War II, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, and one of the main theaters of the conflict was North Africa, where General Rommel outclassed the British at maneuver warfare and pushed them to Tobruk, now under siege. When British attempts to relieve the siege fail, British officer David Stirling conceives of a special commando unit that would fight in the enemy’s rear and disrupt supply lines through sabotage and general mayhem. An intelligence effort was underway to convince the Germans the British were doing just that, so populating a fictitious unit with real soldiers seemed a good way to make the intel operation stick. The thing is, the SAS fought well, assaulting multiple airbases and inflicting high losses, resulting in it being recognized as a very real regiment and given broad agency to accomplish its goals by whatever means necessary.
The series is set in a specific period of history, though it feels contemporary, particularly through the use of a heavy metal soundtrack that punches up the action and sets the tone. The war they fight feels lived in and real. The desert landscapes are stunning, the action scenes exciting. As for the soldiers, they’re recruited from among the most violent and cunning misfits the British Army had on hand, men who disparaged regulation and acted on their own initiative. These men were certainly daring, resourceful, cunning, and utterly committed to putting a hurt on Rommel. This makes them a fun bunch to watch in action, though with some reservations, notably that two of the main officers, Stirling and Paddy Mayne, are supposed to be larger than life personalities but act like self-pitying, petulant, and petty man-babies, and while they come across as great commandos, they’re horrible as commanders. Often, they seem to succeed despite trying to fail. Another issue I had with the series is history doesn’t always make great fiction, as characters die or other events happen that nail broadly true events but seem oddly placed in a story.
Overall, I liked the series a lot and look forward to Season 2, which unfortunately from what I hear may not come out until 2024. Mixing a lot of great elements, it offers a historical drama that feels fresh and fun. A perfect diversion after a hard day.