BBC1 - Sunday (All six episodes also available on BBC iPlayer from Sunday)
The story of the birth of Britain’s Special Air Service is told in this WWII drama
SAS Rogue Heroes, the best-selling book by Ben Macintyre about the beginnings of the SAS, has been adapted by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight into a six-part series. It tells how a group of young soldiers came together to form the world’s most renowned and ruthless Special Forces unit.
The drama features Dominic West, to be seen next week as Prince Charles in the new series of Netflix’s The Crown, and its young stars include Connor Swindells (Sex Education, Vigil), Alfie Allen (White House Farm) and Jack O’Connell (Skins, The North Water).
‘As soon as I heard “SAS” I was very, very into it,’ says Alfie, 36, who also played Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones.
‘I was in the countryside when I got the scripts, actually hanging out with an old military guy. When I told him the names David Stirling, Jock Lewes and Paddy Mayne, his face lit up, and he’s like, “Wow, you’re playing Jock Lewes!”’
Connor Swindells stars as David Stirling, a bored and eccentric officer who is hospitalised after a failed training exercise, and forms what would later become known as the SAS.
‘The book was recommended to me by my brother, who is a massive World War II fanatic. I’d never seen him light up in the way that he did,’ recalls Connor, 26. ‘When I read it, I felt the same way.’
The action-packed, big-budget drama was shot on location in the UK, and Morocco (standing in for Egypt). With a huge cast of extras and all the noise of battle re-enactments, it wasn’t hard for the actors to get into the wartime spirit.
‘Weirdly, in those moments, it just felt completely like we were there,’ says Connor, who played Sex Education’s Adam Groff, and – about as far away from the SAS as you can get – will be seen in next year’s hotly-anticipated movie. ‘Because normally when you’re doing scenes, everyone else is quiet around you. And there’s a level of falseness around the whole thing, but when we did those big screeching drives across the salt flats, it felt like we really were the fellas, which was just amazing.’
Not surprisingly, the young soldiers were pretty maverick characters who didn’t salute one another, wore their uniforms down until they looked like ragged pirates, and certainly weren’t strait-laced army lads.
Alfie’s character Jock was a dashing young Welsh Guards officer, often seen as the ‘brains’ behind the formation of the SAS.
‘Jock had a very religious upbringing, which fascinates me as well,’ Alfie explains. ‘To go from that to being someone capable of spontaneous murder… He was definitely a guy who pushed the boundaries and I think that’s an attractive aspect of being in the military, which is usually just do your job and fake it till you make it!’