Occupation, the BBC’s first major drama set against the backdrop of the Iraq war, starts this Tuesday and promises to be an unforgettable journey into the heart of the darkness that is conflict and its chaotic aftermath.
Peter Bowker’s three-part drama explores a five year period in the lives of three British soldiers based in Basra, southern Iraq in 2003. Crammed inside a Warrior armed troop carrier, bullets and RPGs exploding around them, the three head into a hostile part of the city – and a world descending into chaos.
When they emerge from their vehicle, their lives spiral out of control. Their fates – and the destiny of Iraq itself – become inextricably linked and, united in war, the three men, and their friendships, are torn apart during the peace that follows.
James Nesbitt, who plays Mike, admits he felt anxious about playing the role of a British soldier for the first time in his long and varied career. “This is the first soldier I’ve played since I was starting out as a young extra aged 16 or 17, and it was quite daunting,” he explains.
Daunting though the role was, Nesbitt jumped at the chance of playing Mike, a military veteran approaching the end of his career in the Army who finds his life unravelling when he returns from Iraq.
“The one thing that the certain amount of success I’ve had has afforded me is the ability to be choosy about scripts. I thought Occupation was something I could be challenged by and the writing by Peter Bowker was exceptional,” he says.
Co-star Stephen Graham who plays Danny says he had problems reading Peter Bowker’s screenplay, but not, he hastens to add, because he wasn’t gripped by its drama.
“I couldn’t get my hands on it,” he explains. “My wife, Hannah, is an actor as well. When I was reading it she was grabbing it off me all the time. I’d go off and make a cup of tea and she’d be there with her head buried in it saying: ‘You’ve got to get that part’. I’d say: ‘Give it back,’ and we’d end up fighting over it.”
Warren Brown, who plays Lee “Hibbsy” Hibbs, says servicemen and women have welcomed the production. Whilst filming in Morocco, Brown met a group of RAF pilots on a training exercise in the nearby desert.
“They were so glad that this was being made. If you don’t have any friends or family in the services it is so easy to forget about what is happening and it is so easy when it comes on the television to go, ‘It’s the war again’, click, and turn over to something else. It’s all too easy to forget. It is raising awareness of the fact that our boys are still out there and they are still being killed out there,” he says.
BBC One, starts 9.00pm Tuesday 16th June 2009 – Thursday 18th June