Balancing times of peace and periods of conflict is a challenge that almost all military stories face. As soldiers weigh their duty to their work and to their families, the uniform can become an all-encompassing force and few dramatized stories can exist outside its long shadow. Just this year alone, series like “The Long Road Home” and “Six” have struggled to make their characters exist as something more than stand-ins for ideas and fulfillers of narrative obligation.
But “The Last Post,” the latest co-venture between the BBC and Amazon, finds a special balance by reaching decades into the past. Charting the respective experiences of a Royal Military Police unit stationed in Aden, Yemen and the twin drama of their personal family lives, “The Last Post” considers the nature of escalation and retaliation, both within and outside the base’s walls. Drawn in part from writer Peter Moffat’s family experiences at a similar outpost, the series combines a keen eye and a personal touch to make its major players feel like far more than pawns on an emotional battlefield.
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Filtered at times through the eyes of newcomer Captain Joe Martin (Jeremy Neumark Jones) and wife Honor (Jessie Buckley), the series takes care to flesh out a solid core of officers and family members alike. Major Harry Markham (Ben Miles) faces the challenge of adhering to tradition and order, even in the face of a rebellion growing in Aden. The restless and hard-drinking Alison Laithwaite (Jessica Raine) is a tiny agent of domestic chaos, the outward expression of a fraught relationship with her husband Ed (Stephen Campbell Moore). Upstart and youthful Tony Armstrong (Tom Glynn-Carney) is eager to please and serve, both his compatriots and Yusra (Ouidad Elma), the Markham’s nanny.
© Bonafide Films/The Forge 201
Through these main players, “The Last Post” swaps out the easy heroism that runs through other war-themed entertainment for a thin but pervasive layer of guilt. Even in a military environment, where orders are followed and actions are not questioned, Moffat still finds the tiny moments of hesitance in each character that shows the strongest window into their humanity.
Though their smiles may occasionally belie it, each of these individuals (and many others who come into their orbit), are dealing with the consequences of loss. Missed opportunities, departed loves, and family members in peril all visit them in some form or another. Moffat precisely turns their respective uncertainties into an intricate web of interpersonal relationships that each have their own ramifications of how the enlisted men are able to carry out their orders.
“The Last Post” succeeds in part because the women of the series are not merely accessories for their military counterparts. Although Alison’s drunkenness, Honor’s reticence and Mary Markham’s (Amanda Drew) hawk-eyed observant nature all threaten to initially define them by a single character trait, their interactions reveal more layers of who they are both in relationship to their husbands, to each other, and to themselves. They’re allowed their respective failures on a smaller scale without having to shoulder the blame for the misfortune that falls on them and their husbands.
Though the series shows these soldiers striving for valor under unpredictable moments, they are far from infallible, too. Not every split-second decision results in triumph, and the circumstances of their personal and professional lives often present them with no-win choices and multiple lives in the balance. Because there’s so much attention paid to what animates the Markhams and Martins and all their cohorts, any action taken to rescue a missing boy or search for a fallen soldier is presented in full context.
© Bonafide Films/The Forge 201
Like any period piece worth it’s streaming data, “The Last Post” is about more than its 1965 confines. If emphasized perhaps a tad strongly in its opening episode, Moffat does engage with ideas of torture and public safety in a way that’s not dissimilar to questions that still persist over a half century later. The experiences of an American reporter (Essie Davis) who comes in to document the activity of the unit touches on the role of a free press when fighting against an unfamiliar enemy.
Yet, even against the backdrop of the horrors of impending combat, “The Last Post” still manages to be a feast for the eyes. A parade of pastels and gorgeous mid-60s fashion pop out even more against the expansive desert landscape. Directors Jonny Campbell and Miranda Bowen craft the visual look of the barracks, living quarters, and hospital in a way that keeps everything from disappearing into a bland palette. There’s a marked difference between the steamy living rooms and arid patrol areas, without resorting to bathing each of them in a false historical sheen or ingenuine layer of grime.
“The Last Post” occasionally reaches into the standard bag of TV tricks to wring tension out of domestic and fighting scenes. The contrast between horrific moments of brutality and the gentleness of solemn prayer or a Christmas Carol is the textbook kind of juxtaposition the series often uses to catch the audience at their most vulnerable. But those moments are offset by quieter, subtler moments elsewhere, especially when the central characters are given a chance to sit in silence and react to the highest highs and lowest lows that their stations bring them.
Deliberate without being plodding and sumptuous without losing sight of the troubles below the surface, “The Last Post” is more than the standard period fare. Even in the show’s music, occasionally entreating an airy electronic score to offset the go-to swelling strings, “The Last Post” finds a fresh angle to familiar drama. As the world of Aden begins to expand, there are more opportunities to consider how the smallest day-to-day changes can result in foundational shifts. Through love and loss and conflicted feelings about the future, “The Last Post” finds timeless ways to pinpoint the specific drama of the past.
“The Last Post” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.