In 1941, the Second World War was well under way and the darkest days of the war seemed eternal. Things, however, were about to change, as a ramshackle bunch of eccentric military recruits unknowingly prepared to change the course of history from North Africa.
Transporting viewers to the sun-scorched deserts of Cairo, SAS Rogue Heroes serves up a slice of history – albeit with a smattering of artistic dramatisation for good measure.
Based on Ben Macintyre’s best-selling book of the same name about the origins of the elite commando unit, the six-part spectacle’s all-star cast has fans salivating.
Starring Sex Education’s Connor Swindells, Skins alumni Jack O’Connell, Game Of Thrones’ Alfie Allen and The Wire’s Dominic West, this testosterone-driven affair is brought down to earth by Modern Love star Sofia Boutella.
Emmy nominee Allen, 36, stars as Lieutenant Jock Lewes, one of the regiment’s founders.
“I was in the countryside when I got the script. I was actually hanging out with an old military guy, and when I told him the names – David Stirling, Jock Lewes and Paddy Mayne – his face lit up. He was like, ‘wow, you’re playing Jock Lewes?’”
Allen’s co-star, Swindells – who plays the eccentric founder David Stirling – recounts how the work initially came as a recommendation from his brother – “a massive war fanatic”.
“I’m laughing because I’ve never seen him light up in the way that he did,” recalls 26-year-old Swindells of the moment he made mention of the role.
“I mean, it was absolutely unbelievable. And when I read the book, I felt the exact same way – and the scripts to match were absolute fresh fettle.”
Those came courtesy of Steven Knight, who also penned Peaky Blinders.
The moment of truth, according to Knight, came when a group of current and former SAS soldiers sat down to watch the series.
“So we did this screening, and we sit there and look at their reactions. They loved it. I mean, they absolutely loved it,” says Knight, smiling.
“The first thing they said was the humour was authentic. In those situations, when your friend has just been blown to pieces, there is this bleakness and there is this horror, which, perhaps, will come and hit you a year later.
“But in that moment, there is this funniness, this huge madness. And I think my task was to try to balance that, so that you are seeing the horror – but you’re also seeing how human beings react.”
SAS Rogue Heroes, BBC1, today, 9pm
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