Danny Boy

Photograph: BBC
Rating 7.4
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 90 mins

If you’re looking for a show to stick on, watch, and then forget about, then look away now. Danny Boy instead is full of moral dilemmas and political controversy which will have you pondering for days. There’s also some stellar acting.

This TV film tells the true (and fairly recent) story of Lance Corporal Brian Wood – here played by the wonderful Anthony Boyle – who was awarded the Military Cross in 2004 for his bravery when under fire in Iraq during the so-called Battle of Danny Boy, only to be later accused of committing war crimes during that same battle. It was a part of the Al-Sweady inquiry, which lasted over five years and cost over £20 million, a controversial case which explores the moral boundaries of war, and asks whether the British military should be deemed above, or under the law. It likely goes without saying, this film is bound to incite some strong reactions in viewers, whatever side of the political spectrum they deem themselves.

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The script by Robert Jones encourages us to think hard about where we stand, and to consider the complexities of memory, human rights and legal procedures. We flick between the courtroom and the battlefield, learning more about what happened as Wood digs up his trauma to reveal the memories behind it, with the shots of him mid-battle a reminder of the immense pressure under which decisions are made on the front line. Scrutinising these choices is human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, played here by the ever-brilliant Toby Jones, who perfectly conveys the determined and prideful man who would later be struck off for misconduct himself.

Spoiler alert, for those who didn’t follow the case in real time – the film ends with the inquiry being thrown out, the conclusion being that the accusations were “wholly without foundation and entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility.” And we have to admit, in terms of good drama TV, it’s a pretty boring ending. But maybe that’s the point, choosing not to glorify the political dramatics, and instead have us sit and think about the ethical questions surrounding this case.

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Reviews were mixed, ranging from five stars from The Guardian’s Ellen E Jones, who calls it an “excellent, eye-opening drama,” to Anita Singh of The Telegraph’s two star review, where she says it’s “a wasted chance to shine a light on the fog of war.” And Ed Cumming in The Independent is somewhere between the two, crediting Jones’s writing which he says “is scrupulously even-handed and gives its central characters depth,” calling it “a humane and skilfully made drama which serves as a reminder that people at the centre of historical events are not always rich or powerful. The ugly aftermath of war can take as much of a toll as the fighting.”

First shown May 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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