Occupation Review: Dirty Job But Somebody’s Got To Do It

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

OCCUPATION, Tuesday 16th June, BBC1, 9pm ALERT ME

If there’s one thing war does (other than killing, maiming and psychological disturbing the participants that is), it’s make for a slew of films and TV serials.

Occupation follows the lives of three soldiers recently returned from war-torn Iraq. Unable to adapt to a life back home, they soon find themselves queuing up to get back to Basra all for different reasons.

Staff Sergeant Mike Swift (James Nesbitt), hailed as a hero upon his return to Manchester for rescuing a little girl, can’t quite slot back into everyday life. He keeps hearing helicopters where ever he goes for instance. His solution is to cultivate a relationship with sexy doctor Sadiq and when she backs off, abandon his family to follow her back to Iraq.

Scouse joker Danny’s solution to the gaping void of nothing left by no trigger time is to set up a company dedicated to producing ‘Risk Management Operatives’ (that’s mercenaries to you and me), under the leadership of charismatic yank Lester. This lets him feel better about shooting people and handily provides a little cash on the side.

He drags along Hibbs, a young soldier struggling to cope with a lack of job prospects and the ire of an idealistic young sister. You can just tell this isn’t going to end well.

It’s engaging and sometimes harrowing stuff. James Nesbitt does enough staring in the middle distance to evoke genuine pathos, so much so that simple things like boiling a kettle take on a poignant significance.

Stephen Graham’s Danny uses jokes and laughter to cover a hole blown open and left gaping in the aftermath of war, alternating between bouts of manic drug-induced frenzy and soul-crushing depression, and is so good I can almost forgive his appearance in the god-awful Doghouse, released last week.

If there are any problems, it’s that the plot rattles along a little bit too fast, leaving little time for us to soak up the characters and the often soap-esque contrivances that are used to scoot the plot along. It could probably have benefitted from being a proper series and not just three one-off specials.

Still, any TV serial which manages to show abject pain and misery and Stephen Graham stark-bollock naked in front of tank in the same episode is ok in my book.

Jez Sands