Ross Kemp in Afghanistan

I have a confession to make – I used to watch Eastenders. I didn’t want to but you tend to get over-ruled when your other half insists. Still, that was a while ago and I no longer have to watch such depressing drivel.

However, every now and again you find an actor from the UK’s most “realistic” soap popping up on something else. Sometimes they’re really good – like Shaun Williamson in Extras – and sometimes they’re really bad. I didn’t think that Ross Kemp would be capable of doing anything even half-decent but I’m pleased to say that I was very, very wrong about that.

He won a well-deserved BAFTA for his work in Ross Kemp on Gangs – a sometimes terrifying documentary series where Kemp travels the world seeking out the violent underbelly of our culture. He finds it and it scares the shit out of him.

Not content with the level of brown-trousered-ness of that series he’s attempted to up the chance-of-death factor by following a battalion of men around in Afghanistan for a couple of months in his latest series Ross Kemp in Afghanistan. We missed the first episode but have followed it with interest from then on.

It was quite superb and this is mostly down to Kemp’s ordinariness. He’s not a flashy guy and he doesn’t have the intelligence to regale us with flowery prose – he just tells us the story straight and this particular story works wonderfully with him as our guide.

He also isn’t there to score any political points, as The Guardian reports:

He says he had empathy with the troops of the 1 Royal Anglian battalion, whom he was embedded with, as his father served in a previous incarnation of them and he comes from their part of the world.

However, he insists the series is not political, nor is it there to glamorise the fight in Afghanistan or boost support for it.

“I am not going to talk about that [the politics of the war] because that is not my job,” he says. “I believe that most people in Afghanistan, all they want to do is live their lives as they have done for centuries.”

His lack of politically-minded thinking makes this an incredibly honest program. The troops of 1st Anglian talk to him with utter candour and you can tell that he holds a lot of affection for these boys.

I was surprised to see how excited they got when about to engage the enemy, but pleased at how good their training has been. Their bravery is apparent throughout and this program brilliantly portrays their efforts in quite difficult conditions. Ross Kemp follows them on several missions, dodging bullets along the way – at least he didn’t get fired at in his Gangs series!

Kemp witnesses a misplaced bomb that accidentally kills three of his accompanying troops – a so-called “blue-on-blue incident”. The repercussions on that are crushing but the Army boys deal with their loss with amazing strength.

These deaths, and six others that happened previously, hit an emotionally-charged point in the last episode on 1st Anglian’s return to the UK. They hold a remembrance service for those killed and their families came forward to light candles in their honour. I’ve been to more than my fair share of remembrance services but I always find it hard to fight back the tears, and this one was no different.

It was an incredible series, a must-see.

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