First Cut – Soldier Girls: On the Road to Afghanistan Review

March 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

FIRST CUT – SOLDIER GIRLS: ON THE ROAD TO AFGHANISTAN: Channel 4, Friday 6th March, 7:35pm, Alert me

Far from the heavy-handed pieces of sensationalism that constitute so many ridiculously-named documentaries intent on steering their content for melodramatic kicks, Channel 4’s documentary about female soldiers training to fight in Afghanistan isn’t called “FEMALE KILLING MACHINES? or “GIRLS WITH BIG GUNS? and is actually a short and pleasantly detached look at two girls’ journey to be officers in the British army.

As someone who wouldn’t exactly place G.I. Jane as one of her all-time heroes (I quite like my hair and generally not having to think about killing people), I was a little apprehensive of switching this one on.  Largely expecting a screen filled either with uniformed, plummy know-it-alls spouting off with jingoism or beefy tough-nuts, I was actually treated to a more direct and open portrayal of Holly and Sarah, two young girls of 21 and 23 from very different backgrounds, who live and breathe the tough realism of Sandhurst officer training every day.

Film maker Vanessa Stockley splices frank to-camera, pyjama-clad interviews with shots of the girls khaki-ed up with weapons in tow during actual training, making the documentary direct, like meeting these girls yourself and listening as they tell you about what their job actually entails.

The words “kill people? is bandied around a little too much for complete comfort as each girl chats fairly easily about the concept.  While Holly concludes self-assuredly, “we’re making somewhere safe…it’s something that has to be done”, Soldier Girls is absent of the feeling that you are being sold some patronising ideal of what the army stands for.  This ain’t no “Be the Best” ad.

As the girls explain that the army is something they’ve always dreamed of I can’t help but see them as conditioned in some way (as the image of that WW1 poster with the Kitchener dude pointing flashes up in my mind), but as you watch them in training you feel refreshed to see some ladies competently leading intense situations rather than stepping out of some limo after their hubby attending this weeks WAG convention.

While its brief length is a little disappointing and lends it a structure-less feel, it is this that eventually gives Soldier Girls its candour and allows you to dip into their world for a short while without being told what to think.  Well worth a watch.

Susan Allen