When Steve Knight’s Peaky Blinders, the six-season series about a Birmingham gang in the interwar period and their rise to power, fans were left with a hole in their heart and a question in their mind:
Turns out there was no need for concern, as Knight already had another series in mind. Leaving the cold streets of Birmingham and the rainy English weather behind, the screenwriter’s next series takes place in the vast emptiness of the North African desert under the scorching sun.
Rogue Heroes is the supposed real story of how the British Army’s real-life special forces branch, the SAS (Special Air Service), was first created during the Second World War.
Our story picks up during the North African campaign. German General Erwin Rommel dominates the battlefield, marching through the desert and setting his aims at a most prized landmark. When it came to strategic importance, the Suez Canal was the ultimate prize, as the side that controlled it controlled access to the Mediterranean. The British forces are on the run, desperately trying to hang on to Cairo, while Rommel is banging on their door.
A major contributing factor to the retreat was the British army’s adherence to rigid military structure and petty bureaucracy.
Enter Lt David Sterling (played by Connor Swindells), a drunk, disobedient officer who would like nothing else than to take matters into his own hands and surf the dunes for Nazis to kill. Stirling is also desperately trying to escape his father’s shadow, a famous general.
Bound by orders, Stirling drinks the day away, waiting for a chance to be unleashed. One that comes in the form of a former comrade in arms, Lt John Steel “Jock” Lewes (played by Game of Thrones alumni Alfie Allen), a fellow officer who is as different from Sterling as the day is from the night. Strict, collected and highly disciplined, Lewes was the classic embodiment of a proper British officer. Bogged down in the siege of Tobruk, Lewes got tired of the numerous blunders of the military and reached out to his former comrade with a crazy idea. A new military regiment that operates covertly, disregards orders and kills without mercy.
So, we have the straight arrow and the bad boy; all we need is the wild card. Lt Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne (played by Jack O’ Connel) is the warrior poet, a certifiable psycho with no qualms beating someone to a pulp, even a superior officer.
The trio gets together and forms the first SAS regiment; the rest is history written in sand.
Don’t get fooled, though. While the setting is different, Knight brought all the machismo from Peaky Blinders and dialled it up to 100. Rogue Heroes is a tree house with a sign in crayon exclaiming “NO GIRLS ALLOWED”. Swimming in testosterone, this war-time series has little to no desire to become likeable by conforming: it is what it is, and if you don’t like it, well, you can always not watch it.
The two female characters have minimal screen time, with their function being a stereotype: one is a sweet, innocent woman expecting her man to return from the war, while the other is supposedly a high-ranking spy but ends up being almost something of a parody. What’s great is that the series makes no attempt to hide that, so these female characters fit right in. In an age with insincere representation and rampant tokenism, where studio execs are just trying to tick boxes on a list, Rogue Heroes simply doesn’t care.
This is why when the series turns more serious and sensitive in the last episodes, the turn feels more genuine and sincere, something that is organic and was put there to further the plot. Not as a studio note that reads, “great action scene now put some tears there for the ladies.”
Overwhelming and uncaring manliness is what Knight tries to do. Still, he is not entirely truthful: a problem with the series is queerbaiting, as the producer dances around the issue of Paddy Mayne’s sexuality without being explicit. While there is no definitive answer, Knight could have taken a bold step and picked a side. He doesn’t, which kind of undermines his premise.
Other than that, Rogue Heroes is good, dumb fun, and great for a weekend binge!
Steven Knight has another massive hit in their hands, and it is only time before blokes change flat caps for military service caps.