Steven Knight recently admitted that his new series, the somewhat awkwardly titled SAS Rogue Heroes, shares "sort of a theme" with his most famous work, Peaky Blinders.


In truth, its not just a theme that SAS shares with Peaky - it's a tone, a sensibility and a style. This series may take place thousands of miles away from Tommy Shelby's Birmingham stomping ground, but in many ways the two series are flip sides of a coin.

This is not at all a criticism - Peaky Blinders went from a relatively minor BBC Two gem to a worldwide sensation for a reason and any comparison drawn between the two shows is therefore to SAS's strength. It's safe to say that fans of Knight's previous work will not be disappointed.

SAS Rogue Heroes takes place in 1941 and charts the unbelievable true story of the creation of the Special Air Service, a paratrooper regiment borne from the unlikely combination of a disinformation campaign and the whims of Lieutenant David Stirling.

Connor Swindells as David Stirling in SAS Rogue Heroes.
Connor Swindells as David Stirling in SAS Rogue Heroes. Kudos, Robert Viglasky

It's a far more plot-driven series than Peaky, which naturally comes with its firmer basis in reality. Where that series used a real-life gang to explore the inner turmoil of a fictional character, this is a much more traditional historical drama, adding tonal and textural flourishes to real-life events.

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When it comes to World War II dramatisations, the series is something of a throwback. Recent shows and films have, for good reason, tended to err on the side of serious examination. Just this week a new adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front hits Netflix, with that film leaning into the visceral brutality of war.

This series isn't that. At its heart it's a thrilling, old-fashioned romp, which doesn't avoid the horrors of war so much as skirt alongside them. The series acknowledges the terror of what these men went through but it's not front and centre. This is entertainment with a capital E, full of gunfights, parachute jumps, espionage and high-stakes missions. Oh, and plenty of explosions.

To emphasise this, the series pulls the well-worn trick of modernising the aesthetic and characters right to the brink of credulity. For every wartime ditty heard through a gramophone, the series's soundtrack blares out a pumping string of rock and heavy metal tunes, while on-screen titles scream out at the audience in graffiti-style font.

Meanwhile, Stirling wanders about the sands of North Africa in US style Aviator sunglasses, pouting and mouthing off to his superiors. Across the board the dialogue is gleefully anachronistic and playful.

Connor Swindells as David Stirling in SAS Rogue Heroes.
Connor Swindells as David Stirling in SAS Rogue Heroes. Kudos, Rory Mulvey

For some this may jar with the historical context, but Knight and his team know their audience. War stories have been told on the big and small screen time and time again, and in order to stand out they have chosen to focus on how this one speaks to our current times.

The title Rogue Heroes does a lot of heavy lifting, as Knight once again examines men (and it really is almost entirely men) achieving greatness through inexplicable means, on the fringes of society - a tale as old as time and one which will surely still speak to modern audiences. The setting also helps to make the series stand out, with the North African backdrop and desert visuals truly popping on screen.

Stirling is played by Sex Education's Connor Swindells and, to be clear, this series would not work nearly as well as it does without his hugely charismatic, sometimes charming, sometimes bristling performance.

Stirling is a significantly less tortured lead than Peaky's Tommy Shelby, but he's still a richly drawn lead and anytime he's on screen the drama is suitably elevated. He's still a complex, messy individual that's ultimately easy to root for - exactly the sort that Knight delights in unpacking.

Sofia Boutella as Eve Mansour in SAS Rogue Heroes.
Sofia Boutella as Eve in SAS Rogue Heroes. Kudos, Robert Viglasky

The rest of the cast all put in solid work. Jack O'Connell is typically brilliant as live-wire Paddy Mayne, Dominic West brings a enjoyable pomposity and eccentricity to Wrangel Clarke and Sofia Boutella steals almost every scene she's in as Eve, the deputy head of French intelligence in Cairo and the one female lead.

Of the central cast, Alfie Allen has the least to do, with his character Jock Lewes a relatively one-note army type. He does the best with what he's given, but one does wish he was granted the opportunity to show off a bit of the range that we know is within him from Game of Thrones.

As is common with war dramas, the rest of the cast has to be filled out with somewhat indiscriminate members of the unit, and even with six hours to play with the rest of the team remains largely indistinguishable. One can expect the series's core cast of the characters to be further fleshed out if it returns for a second season, but as of now this is definitively a plot-driven drama, with characters coming second.

Anyone expecting SAS Rogue Heroes to be a revolutionary exercise or an investigative character study should adjust their expectations accordingly. This is an old-fashioned story told with punky, modern set-dressings. It's Peaky Blinders in a new set of clothes, and while it is a worthy successor to that show, it has yet to reach that series's heights nor plumb the depths of its characters in quite the same way.

But the dialogue is razor-sharp, the performances entertaining and the action well-staged. It's exactly what Sunday nights have been missing and is sure to leave fans crying out for more.

SAS Rogue Heroes arrives on BBC One on Sunday 30th October at 9pm. Visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out the rest of our Drama coverage.


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