And so to complete our trilogy of bodily functions-meet-moving pictures features, I introduce to you this fine example of onscreen scatology, stemming from the Beeb’s 1999 adaptation of Alan Partridge’s desert island book of choice, Bravo Two Zero.
In case you are completely unaware of it, ‘Bravo Two Zero’ was the callsign of a British SAS unit sent behind Iraqi lines in the 1991 Gulf War, tasked with finding and disabling mobile Scud missile launchers. Of course, it all went Horribly Wrong, and the invincible warriors of the Special Air Service were forced to flee. Of the eight-man team, only one escaped, four were captured and three died.
A couple of years later, the team’s leader wrote a book about it all, using the pseudonym ‘Andy McNab’. It became a bestseller, and somewhat implausibly (given how the story pans out) something of a favourite for taxi drivers. Adopting a thoroughly readable (if hardly memorable) style of prose, McNab relates how the mission goes tits-up early on, forcing the unit to kill possibly hundreds of Iraqis as they make a break for the Syrian border. On the way they are split up in bad weather. After much walking and a car hijacking, McNab’s group is forced to try and shoot their way across the frontier when they get stopped at a checkpoint, but to no avail: our breezily racist hero is thrown in the jug, where he is interrogated, tortured and isolated. Eventually he is reunited with a couple of his mates, who have also been captured, and a while later they are repatriated after the ceasefire. The end.
Except the only member of the mission to actually escape Iraq disagreed with he read in McNab’s account, and wrote his own version, snappily entitled The One That Got Away, under the nom de plume of ‘Chris Ryan’ (never was quite sure why he chose to name himself after the short bloke out of The Young Ones). In it Ryan describes the various incidents of derring-do in McNab’s book in somewhat different terms – tanks and armoured personnel carriers and hundreds of heavily armed troops become a bunch of militia and some armed civilians – whilst also berating McNab’s leadership (which, unsurprisingly, McNab himself thought was pretty damn good).
So it came to pass that in 1996 ITV produced a film of The One That Got Away, directed by a pre-big budget blockbusting-helming Paul Greengrass and starring, um, noted screen hardman Paul McGann as Ryan. I guess getting pipped to the post by the opposition is one of the reasons why in the BBC film the Ryan character is painted as such an effete and narcissistic dill. It’s not even as though the Michael Asher (The Real Bravo Two Zero, 2002) or ‘Mike Coburn’ (Soldier Five, 2004) books, which have a go at both the McNab and Ryan versions, had been published by this point. Still, at least there’s some attempt at throwing a bit of moral depth into the Ryan film; it’s rather disarming when you realise that the somewhat flat and simplistic Bravo Two Zero script was knocked up by none other than Troy Kennedy-Martin, who gave us one of television’s most complex and conscious dramas of the last twenty years, Edge Of Darkness. This, on the other hand, doesn’t come even close to the gangster-glamorising wit of The Italian Job. It’s just gung ho shit.
Talking of which… So, McNab – played by Sean Bean, no stranger to Motion Picture Motions – has been captured, and his chainsmoking mate Dinger has been thrown in the cell with him. In order to satiate his pal’s need for nicotine, Andy takes to amusing their gaoler in exchange for fags. And, as is often the way in such circumstances (so I’m led to believe – I have no direct experience of it myself), this involves complimenting the turnkey on his Boney M and Michael Jackson covers, and then eating the shit off his own hands after emptying the chamberpot down the down. Bish bash bosh, job’s a good’un, pass me the matches, goodnight Vienna.