Lieutenant Mark Evison was 26 years old when he was fatally wounded in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. The incident was captured in the admirable BBC3 documentary series Our War.
Evison knew his life was ending. There is audio footage of him telling frantic colleagues from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards who are screaming at him to stay alive: “I’m going down… I’m going down.” He later died in hospital in the UK.
“I’m going down” are words that, once you hear them, can never be forgotten. They are the words of a dying man. They stain the heart and the mind. I didn’t know Mark Evison and have no right to claim any part of the tragedy that took him from his family and friends. But I, like everyone else I know who saw Our War, was moved beyond words.
Everything I have watched about Afghanistan since is haunted by the ghost of Our War. I’m not receptive to anything that doesn’t take the conflict ruthlessly, painfully seriously. So right from the start I was bridling at Homefront (tonight at 9pm), an ITV1 drama about soldiers wives and girlfriends.
Let me say from the outset that I don’t believe for a second that there should be some kind of TV drama cordon sanitaire around the Afghan war. But it is a real, vivid thing, a conflict that continues to claim lives, that tears at everyone who is left behind: the waiting, the bereaved. If you’re going to make a drama about it, make it count and make it important. Men like Mark Evison deserve no less.
Homefront starts unforgivably with a hoary old dramatic trick. We know that one of the women on a soulless Army base is about to receive the knock at the door that no one wants, the one that will tell her that her husband or boyfriend is dead. Homefront decides to eke out some cheap drama by making us think it could be one of two women. There’s a knock – one woman answers the door, clearly petrified. But, oh look, it’s only the postman with a parcel! It’s the other woman who gets the bad news. See what they did there? Made you all tense and wondering “Who’s dead?”
Right now, in this country, there are real women waiting for that knock, the one that will bring the worst of all news. To turn that jagged pain into a soap scene is insulting. And make no mistake, Homefront is a soap (its producer used to be in charge of Coronation Street).
From the first second you’ll be able to track all of its plots and characters: the noisy, stock soap-women (the capable one, the flighty one, the posh one who’s a bit at sea); the lost, grieving widow who looks in ways she shouldn’t at another man on the day of her husband’s funeral; the bitter mother who blames the daughter-in-law for her son’s death; the dad who tries to keep the peace. And, of course, the shifty major who might, in some way, have been to blame for a soldier’s death.
But, oh dear God, it was the funeral that left me raging. A dramatic re-creation of the repatriation of a body with military honours. I’m sure every last detail was completely correct, which somehow made it so much worse. These harrowing ceremonies with their flag-draped coffins and the Last Post are already too real, too frequent, and they mean too much to too many people in a lonely, terrible reality. This should never be entertainment.
Homefront starts tonight at 9:00pm on ITV1