We are the British Army, this is cowardice: The Patrol at Riverside Studios

It was screened last week, at the Riverside Studios in London, the British war movies The Patrol (watch the trailer).

During the special evening, were present at the screening  the director Tom Petch, the editor Luke Deverill and the actors Owain Arthur (One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket) and Nav Sidhu (How I live Now) who, after the screening, answered questions from the audience and spoke about their experience on set. Absent among the other members of the cast, the Londoner Daniel Fraser who is taken up in the new play of the Royal Shakespeare Company Wolf Hall at the  Aldwych Theatre.

Considered the British answer to The Hurt Locker, written and directed by ex-army Tom Petch, The Patrol is a drama about a troubled tour of  Helmand Province.

Jury Prize Winner at the Randance Film Festival in 2013 and nominated for the British Film Festival the same year,  the movie is the opposite of the American  Lone Survivor.

If Peter Berg‘s masterpiece tells the action of four men during the Red Wings Operation, Pert shows us the authentic inaction, made by disgruntled grunts question their kit, their tactics and the entire Afghanistan war amid endless waiting.

“In 2006 the UK Minster of Defence announced the deployment of British Troops to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, saying: ‘We would be happy to leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot’. ‘The Patrol’ features a British Army Operational Mentor and Liaison Team supporting this NATO led operation. As the scale of the Taliban insurgency dawns on the soldiers, problems with their operation cause the men to question their role in the war” writes Tom Petch on IMDb as plot of his story.

And we can add: a small unit: Captain William Richardson (Ben Righton, A good year),  Lieutenant Jonathan Bradshaw (Daniel Fraser, Lab Rats), Sergeant ‘Sol’ Campbell (Nicholas Beveney, Sahara) and privates Taff (Owain Arthur), Ginge (Alex McNally, Skirt), Stab (Oliver Mott, Doctors) and Smudge (Nav Sidhu) are deployed for what seems to be  just three days in dangerous country. Everything changes when a surprise night-time attack from the Allies – perhaps the Americans or even the British SAS – provokes new activity from the Taliban. The Patrol finds itself as part of an exposed frontline mission unfortunately named Operation Icarus. Soon the men become demoralised and insubordinate to the point of questioning the entire British presence in a war that does not belong to it.

The entire  Petch’s screenplay is tense and plausible, and the modest digital effects needed for distant explosions actually enforce a disturbing, dreamlike atmosphere. This is a  solid debut for the director, with evocative location filming in Morocco and pyrotechnic flourishes belying his low budget.

After the screening Petch spoke about how he started writing the script in 2007, as reported last February by the Telegraph“The script was born out of frustration,” says Tom Petch, who served as a cavalry officer in the Queen’s Own Hussars (later the Queen’s Royal Hussars) before going into the Special Forces. “I wrote it when [military operations in] Afghanistan started going off the rails around 2007. Then the regular infantry started going through – the Royal Anglians were going in and getting hammered. My view was that this just wasn’t the way to do counter-insurgency.”

During the evening he also explained how the original script has remained almost intact, how this is an original story based on a petrol because in a small group it’s easier to break down and how it wants to be an anti-war film. He also talked about the difference between enjoying the army with a private education background or with a public one. The same argument has been the subject of an article published by the Spectator in January,2013 : Half of the British Army’s officer corps is privately educated. Does that matter?

Editor Luke Deverill spoke about the decision to not use the Afghanistan Army on the screen but only the British one working with just one angle of view and also on the idea to do another film with an Afghanistan Army very specific angle and how with the low budget all the shots have been made over a period of one month. He also talked about the importance of music (written by Nick Crofts and James McWilliam) which filled in an excellent manner all the scenes with no dialogue.

Nav Sidhu and Owain Arthur entertained the audience instead of telling the difficult experience on the set: the hard sessions of Bootcamp blind on an hill in the middle of somewhere. How after two days training you start to think as a soldier, how the equipment becomes part of you so easily and how you learn to share everything calling your work-mates with their character’s names after a couple of days. The difficulty of living without electricity and how they needed  to stop shooting at one o’clock in the afternoon when the temperature reached the 50 C°. But also about the difficulty of returning to your daily life once it is over. Arthur also explained how to play the dead soldier was the most difficult thing for him: “It was really thoughtful, playing a dead man all day long. The sun hit me and I started to feel as I was burning”.

The Patrol is now available on DVD.








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