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Review: Chris Ryan's Strike Back 1x1-1x2

Posted on May 7, 2010 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Chris Ryan's Strike Back

In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, Sky 1/Sky 1 HD

It's easy to forget that while Armando Iannucci and co urge the BBC to set up its own subscription-only version of HBO in the UK, one company is already in the fledgling steps of doing just that: BSkyB. Sky have one mission in life and that's to sell subscriptions and Sky boxes - in particular HD Sky boxes and HD subscriptions (an extra £10 a month). After years of assuming that buying lots of US TV was the way to attract subscribers - to diminishing returns - the last few years has seen a change of strategy: a concerted effort to create home-grown, quality drama, usually based on Terry Pratchett books, in an attempt to get the viewing public to hand over the cash.

Chris Ryan's Strike Back is the latest part of this strategy. Starring everyone's favourite Dick Head, Richard Armitage - the actor on everyone's speed dial when they need to cast an SAS soldier - Strike Back sees Armitage's down-and-out MI6 security guard (and former SAS soldier) go back to Iraq to recover a kidnapped reporter, who might be in the hands of the Iraqis he fought in his last mission. His MI6 handler: the army intelligence officer who accompanied him back then (Andrew Lincoln).

And you know what? Despite being on Sky 1, it's actually very good.

Plot
High-octane drama explodes onto Sky1 HD this May with an action-packed series based on the multi-million best-selling book by former SAS man Chris Ryan.

Starring Richard Armitage and Andrew Lincoln, Strike Back is a compelling story of betrayal, glory, redemption and revenge played out through the interlinking lives of two former soldiers: military hero Hugh Collinson (Lincoln) and discharged veteran John Porter (Armitage).

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Porter leads a Special Forces unit on a daring hostage rescue mission into the heart of Basra, culminating in a disastrous turn of events for him and Collinson. Porter bears the burden of guilt, with the repercussions haunting him for years, until an opportunity presents itself to return to Iraq and redeem himself. After several years apart, Porter and Collinson's lives are about to collide once again…

In three stand-alone narratives based in Iraq, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Pakistan, dramatised over six episodes, the stories interweave the dramatic politics of war, with the personal demons of two very driven men: Collinson and Porter.

Filmed on location in the epic landscapes of South Africa on 35mm film for a stunning HD image, Strike Back is set to wow audiences with its cinematic proportions. From scenes of intense combat to the confines of a brutal Harare jail and the desert landscapes of Iraq to the lush greenery of the Zimbabwean outback, HD promotes every dramatic detail with crystal clear accuracy.   

With an impressive international cast including Toby Stephens, Ewen Bremner, Jodhi May, Dhafer L'Abidine, Orla Brady, Shelley Conn and Colin Salmon, Strike Back is a series not to be missed this spring.

Is it any good?
Well, yes, it is. This is, obviously, of a particular genre: the "manly men doing manly soldier things" genre that is the novel-writing speciality of the likes of former SAS soldiers Chris Ryan and Andy McNab, although they're by no means the only ones.

Of this genre's particular trappings, Strike Back has one or two of the requisite clichés needed to make you snigger: damsels in distress; honourable manly men going through hell but showing how hard and indestructible they are then killing everyone; women throwing themselves at the honourable manly men, even when presented with the worst pick-up lines ever; Iraqis always driving pickup trucks and clapped out Mercedes; shadowy secret branches of government with lots of high-tech equipment; and obvious cannon fodder wandering into obvious cannon-equipped territory.

But in the surprising hands of writer Jed Mercurio (Bodies, Cardiac Arrest) and director Daniel Percival (The State Within), Strike Back rises above those clichés to become a tense drama with excellent production values and decent acting.

Although there's the occasional wobble, the strength of the piece, which feels like old-school drama in the way it's shot, is that it's a lot smarter than it seems. Foreigners mostly speak in Arabic, read Arabic script, have mobile phones that are set to use Arabic and watch Iraqi TV programmes. Just when you think you know the cliché and what's going to happen next, the story surprises you, before returning to cliché: yes, Armitage can pull with crap - indeed creepy - pick-up lines, but there's a reason for that and it's not what he thinks it is. It even manages to be hard-edged without being distasteful.

A lot of this authenticity is down to Ryan, who injects the story with an unexpected degree of verisimilitude. But Percival's direction ensures that you really do feel like you're in Iraq most of the time. The fire fights and fist fights feel real enough (albeit with a little dramatic licence) and the pace thunders along from scene to scene.

Things at home aren't quite so well paced: Armitage's family has little to offer dramatically that you won't have seen in a dozen or so "married to the job" stories, and Andrew Lincoln's character has nothing much to do beyond slip and slime from scene to scene. Army intelligence officer Jodhi May (The BBC's version of The Other Boleyn Girl) sulks her way through most of the two episodes, although at least has a handgun in most of them, but Colin Salmon is actually good enough to make you ignore the fact he's just there to shout at subordinate Lincoln.

The rest of the series
Since these are just the first two episodes of the series, it won't surprise you to learn that there are two more two-part stories to come and that Dickie Armitage doesn't return to being a security guard at the end of the second episode. There's an ongoing story arc for Armitage and Lincoln that will take no one by surprise either, but could prove interesting nevertheless.

With the rest of the series' filming done in South Africa and the stories set around the world, it should prove to be a visual treat as well. Definitely one to record*.

* I would say Series Link, but as seems to be the way these days, the Sky box won't let me.

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  • You'll be looking forward to my review of Saracen in a couple of weeks' time then ;-)

  • Thanks for the review, Rob - I don't have Sky so can't watch,but at least you've given my a pic of Richard to ogle at from afar(-: Will try and catch up with it on DVD. Am a suckre for action hero stuff, particularly when it involves my favourite Dick Head(-:

  • Not see it yet. And erm, spoiler tags next time please? I've had to not read your comment without reading it in order to preserve the surprise, if you see what I mean!

  • Viv

    So, MediumRob, did u watch last night`s travesty?Porter criticises a woman for sleeping with him; yet she`s the single one, and he has a wife who`s illness he finds out about from the daughter whom he also doesn`t care about? To add insult to injury, more OTT miraculous and speedy recoveries from crippling injury, and they`re up against another 2 sets of absurdly incompetent enemies, whom Porter can defeat, however many of them there are.Pants.

  • It's not as bad as all that. Certainly, if you've seen Ultimate Force series three or four, you'll know how bad macho SAS dramas can get. This is Shakespeare in comparison

  • Biff Wonsley

    Seriously? This is in the "so bad it's good" category. The transition from 2003 to 2010 was painful, complete with comedy mullet wig. I can't believe how bad this is, esp after the ad blitz for this donkey. The ad budget must have been more than that of the actual production.

    That said, I'll be watching every last minute of it! I love trash. Esp trash featuring RA.

  • My wife loved it (quite a bit because of Richard Armitage, but not totally). I doubt it'll be on free pass weekend for a while - it defeats the point of getting people to subscribe for your content if you show it for free! Certainly, none of the Pratchett adaptations, et al, have been on the free pass weekends IIRC.

  • Anna

    Total junk.Just a load of macho posturing, Armitage reprises his role as the plank of Sherwood. This won`t tempt me to take out a Sky subscription.Sky must have suspected this and didn`t dare to put it on their free pass weekend!Aimed at wargame players and armchair warriors, I suspect.

  • "It differs wildly from the book, I have to say, and seemingly sometimes purely for budget. Overall the rewrite is more plausible than the book, though the book like all Chris Ryan books is an excellent example of action fiction."

    I've not read any of Ryan's although I tried an Andy McNab a while back (as well as Bravo Two Zero). If McNab's is anything like Ryan's, then yes, I expect they would, as you say, have to make some changes on the grounds of plausibility but would be cracking to read nevertheless.

  • Derek Eynon

    It differs wildly from the book, I have to say, and seemingly sometimes purely for budget. Overall the rewrite is more plausible than the book, though the book like all Chris Ryan books is an excellent example of action fiction. Derek Eynon Bromsgrove

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