Starring: Lacey Turner, Ben Aldridge, Iwan Rheon
Following on from the one-off TV movie of the same name about a girly nail technician who mans up and joins the army, this five-parter packs Cockney chatterbox Molly Dawes – now a fully trained combat medic – off to Afghanistan, where she finds herself having to adjust not just to the heat and dust and danger but to lots of testosterone and alpha male bantering. Dispatched with her squadron on a hearts and minds mission to a remote town to ensure that children of both sexes are attending school free of interference from the Taliban, she’s soon in the thick of things as she befriends a young Afghan girl, an action which stirs up resentment among some of the locals and makes her a target for reprisals.
Meanwhile, back at camp, she wins over the boys and joins in their singalongs, and develops a brotherly relationship with cocky Welshman Smurf (Iwan Rheon) and something more than that with Captain James (Ben Aldridge), the tall, handsome, posh Sandringham type who is their commanding officer. With its combination of comic banter, romantic entanglements and issues drama, Our Girl is none too subtle and a little soft-centred at times – there’s quite a bit more crying in it than in your usual war story – but it sensibly grounds itself in a narrow, localised plotline and its production values are extremely impressive. With South Africa standing in for Afghanistan, the show is bathed in golden light in a way that few BBC programmes are, and the recreation of Camp Bastion – a mini outpost town with its own Nando’s – breathes authenticity.
As for Molly, her character teeters on the edge of self-indulgence at times – there’s a particularly cringing moment when she blurts out “Do you love me?” to James when he’s trying to sweep for mines with a metal detector – but Lacey Turner does a magnificent job of making her seem warm-hearted and funny. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is how well James’s role is written. Not only a leader in battle, he also wears a whole host of other hats – he’s a nursemaid, a teacher, a social worker and something almost like a holiday rep too as he tries to brighten up the squad’s downtime.
There in the background of Molly’s story is the gradual winding down of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan, and if nothing else, the release of this box set is perfectly timed to coincide with the army’s withdrawal from Camp Bastion. For all its occasional flaws and excesses, Our Girl paints a portrait of men and women in uniform who haven’t allowed a long and bloody conflict to dampen one iota of their humanity.