SAS Rogue Heroes S01 – A Cool Historical Action Film About the Birth of the SAS

SERIES REVIEW – Cairo, 1941. As the Nazis push forward on the African front, a group of Bolshevik soldiers, unwilling to play by the rules, form a new “shadow” regiment and are permitted to stop the enemy by any means necessary. Thus was born the British commando task force that still operates today, the Special Air Service, or SAS for short. We watched the entire first season of the series, which was recently released on HBO Max, written by the creator of Peaky Blinders.



When the news broke that Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight was working on a drama series that would tell the origin story of the SAS in the middle of the Second World War, it was clear that a better man for the job could not have been found. After all, Peaky Blinders is also a story about macho, hyper-masculine men in ‘uniform’ (albeit in flat caps and tweed jackets) operating outside the rules of ‘normal’ society, wielding handguns and bladed caps and beating the crap out of everyone if necessary. And Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his war experiences, led his own army of brave young men. Except they were fighting rival criminal gangs rather than, say, the Nazis (although the Nazis did end up getting involved in the series).

The only difference from the atmosphere of Peaky Blinders is that SAS Rogue Heroes is a slightly more sarcastic, often jokey approach to the actual war story. At least initially, the portrayal of the various revelers and non-conformist characters sets the tone – although the ugly, violent realities of wartime life are also harshly portrayed when necessary.



The punk is not dead


From the start, this series has been everything you’d expect from a Steven Knight production. His trademark punky tone is very much present. It comes across in the thunderous anachronistic classic rock musical interludes (ever seen a WWII movie with AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, Thunderstruck and The Stranglers’ Something Better Change blaring? ). Still, the on-screen action-movie graphic elements – a little reminiscent of Tarantino – and the punchy dialogue full of relentless profanity (the phrase “What the fuck are you doing here?” comes up a lot) are what set it apart. Even the wording of the opening disclaimer is playful: ‘Based on a true story, the events depicted, which seem most unbelievable… are mainly actual. ”

As the series progresses, it gradually becomes clear that this is no idle boast, and as has always been the case with Knight’s scripts, his unique style of hangman’s humour, often in crazy situations, adds a massive atmosphere to the series, while the professional action scenes are handled expertly by director Tom Shankland (The Snake).



Another Steven Knight troublemaker you’ll love


Among the impressive ensemble is Connor Swindells (Sex Education) as David Stirling, the driving force behind the mad plan to create a new secret regiment, the SAS. We first meet him in a genuinely funny scene when he refuses to bow to a superior officer (played brilliantly by comic Miles Jupp). His loose, cheeky, amusingly vomit-inducing style never fails to leave us for a moment from then on. The series wouldn’t work nearly as well without his extremely charismatic, sometimes charming, other times rugged, macho, even deliberately crass performance.

Stirling is a considerably less jaded protagonist than Peaky Tommy’s Shelby, but he is also a richly drawn protagonist, and whenever he appears on the scene, the character he portrays adds natural weight to the plot. He’s also a complex, troubled character who’s very easy to like and root for – precisely the sort of person Knight clearly delights in developing.

But Jack O’Connell also gives it his all, as always, in the surprisingly complex role of poetry-loving Paddy Mayne, who, for a true Irishman with a real Irish streak, unsurprisingly spends a lot of time in military prisons for assaulting various commanders. But Mayne is not just an incredible daredevil; he also has complex, often conflicting feelings: he forms a deep friendship with fellow Irishman Eoin McGonigall (Donal Finn), which will be a major motif throughout the first season.



“Cherchez la femme!”


And in case you’re wondering if there’s a place for women in this story, Sofia Boutella (The Mummy) pops up from time to time as a French-Algerian spy, mainly to have a word duel with Dominic West’s eccentric intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wrangel Clarke, who happens to arrive on the scene in full masquerade. If Boutella’s role seems a little insignificant initially, her tête-à-tête with Swindells and West is still sparkling, as is the entire hilariously exciting sequence.

The other actors all did a solid job. The always excellent Dominic West lends an amusing swagger and eccentricity to the British intelligence agent Wrangel Clarke.

Alfie Allen has the least to do with the central characters, and Jock Lewes is a relatively one-dimensional soldier. He makes the best of what he’s given, but you wish he’d been given a chance to show a bit of the range we’ve known him for since Game of Thrones. True, he has a scene that is both comic and tragic, in which he can still do well, but even so, he is a bit restrained in his role.



The war “brother” of Peaky Blinders


In fact, SAS Rogue Heroes is similar to Peaky Blinders in its subject matter, tone, sensibility and style. It may be set thousands of miles away from Tommy Shelby’s Birmingham home, but the two series are two sides of the same coin in many ways.

It’s no accident that Peaky Blinders went from being a relatively unremarkable gem on BBC Two to a global sensation, so the comparison between the two series is SAS’s forte. Certainly, fans of Knight’s previous work will not be disappointed, as his writing is at its best in this highly stylized and relentlessly engaging account of the formation of the SAS.


SAS Rogue Heroes S01

Direction - 8.5
Actors - 8.6
Story - 8.8
Visuals/action/music - 9.2
Ambience - 8.6



It's no accident that Peaky Blinders went from being a relatively unremarkable gem on BBC Two to a global sensation, so the comparison between the two series is SAS's forte. Certainly, fans of Knight's previous work will not be disappointed, as his writing is at its best in this highly stylized and relentlessly engaging account of the formation of the SAS.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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