[Canal+] Rogue Heroes: “Dash, kill, come back” to an AC/DC tune

The showrunner of Peaky Blinders leaves the atmosphere of the 30s for the hell of Tobruk in 1941/42. And the question arises: isn’t the passage from fiction to the relation of real facts a step too high to take to keep both the spectator in suspense and a strong aesthetic signature?

Rogue Heroes
Alfie Allen, Connor Swindells, Jack O’Connell – Copyright BBC Studios

I was surprised to find Rogue Heroes, this winter, in the Canal+ broadcast roster. A series composed by Steven Knightcharioteer of Peaky Blinderswhich brings together in the cast Dominic West (The Crown, The Affair, The Wire) , Jack O’Connell (the indispensable Cook of Skins from season 3), and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones), based on the birth of the British SAS regiment (where served Bear Grylls in the nineties before breaking his back there) in the context which is also that of the film “a taxi to Tobruk” major reference of French war cinema…

For me it was a bit like Christmas on my TV at Christmas time on my TV: the fault of a youth marked by Saturday movies with the grandfather. And a good reason to binge out of curiosity during the lackluster rains of the past few weeks.

rogue heroes posterBut, still saddened by the memory of the not very successful Catch-22 produced by George Clooney in 2019 I was entitled to ask myself: after Band of Brothers then The Pacific – who both laid down the codes of realistic historical narration in serials on WWII and durably imposed a very realistic aesthetic -, is it still possible to renew the genre of the series around the Second World War without falling into parody? humorous or in the escalation of special effects with strong aircraft cockpits and explosions on a green screen? Coarse subterfuge often used to compensate for the lack of novelty of a story already abundantly told in all cinematographic sauces.

The answer is yes for Rogue Heroes and it holds, in my eyes, in several points:

Knight brings its rhythmic signature to the whole. The producer and his director Tom Shanklandwho have no doubt watched a lot of the films of Tarantino play, as in PB, the anachronism of an ultra rock soundtrack (here AC DC in the lead) to frenzy a human adventure as virile as one could wish. This signature is obvious: “hello, it’s Steven Knight I come back to haunt the aesthetic universe of the series, with sublimated body movements, and angel faces, do you recognize me? And once again, the soundtrack is an adjuvant which also allows for nervous, modern, spirited montages, and which accentuates an impression of exhilarating euphoria of the fighters.

The spectator has the perpetual impression of heroes under speed, animated by an inner fire even in the moments of waiting which, in fact, never last too long… Rogue Heroes is not contemplative, no. Oh wait, the story is taken from the best-selling book by Ben Macintyre, SAS Rogue Heroes and the credits make it clear: although these twisted stories have the appearance of narrative fabrication, most of them are true. The number of bottles or illicit substances dropped by sometimes ethically dubious anti-heroes is impressive and it is hard to believe that everything here is not just fiction.

The photo is the other great signature success of the show. Nothing is more yellow and 2D than an on-screen desert. And yet. The fight scenes are of a beauty that owes a lot to the decor and the way it is filmed, playing with reflections, twilights, nights, shadows and dust to compensate for the apparent lack of volume. Really the desert is a character in its own right in this first season.

The showrunner’s stroke of genius is also to have found a story so incredible that it becomes epic, so crazy that he only has to cut it to his hand to better slip it into the suit of the series which works well. In an interview Knight also recounted the narrative power of the source book, from which he finally had more difficulty removing passages that seemed so incredible that he feared losing the viewer, than adding fictional elements to add plot twists.

And in fact the story of the birth of the English SAS regiment seems so improbable that it has everything of a fiction: invented in the foggy mind of an aristocrat’s son bored in Tobruk for lack of being able to do battle with the Nazis and thus prove his worth to a military father. Stirling imagines a group of commandos who, instead of waiting to be shot from the air without being able to retaliate, would slip in small discreet groups to enemy airfields to blow up Luftwaffe and Italian army planes before they have the slightest chance of taking off. And thus save English soldiers in Tobruk or in Egypt. The staff not following him in his absurd idea, he hijacks equipment and creates a small group of hotheads who decide to shine without informing the hierarchy.

Rogue Heroes
Sofia Boutella – Copyright BBC Studios

The adventures of the creation of one of the most famous special forces regiments in the world deserve that I do not spoil them here. But really, we would have liked to imagine a barred caricature of army management hacking… We would have told the story of the creation of the SAS. Almost funny at times. The scenario plays into it. Often buffoon, never pastiche, always completely crazy: “who dares wins” has been the motto of the regiment since its creation. All that remained for the scriptwriters and the producer was one big crucial question: what if some of the charismatic protagonists of the Great History, misfortunes of war, were to die in combat? Is it better to lose a potential hero of the little serial history or to deviate from World History?

Finally, this first season is also and above all about a handful of charismatic actors that the casting director has chosen both in relation to the historical characters and because they embody them with a remarkable power of conviction in the game, who stirs the viewer. Their way of playing is totally different from each other, totally mastered, instinctive and yet complementary. Strong personalities. The direction of actors leaves them a place to “be” themselves and deploy it. Dominic West is a cynical manipulator in the service of misinformation, Jack O’Connell puts on her second skin again as a tortured Irish-style little striker, Alfie Allen is unfathomable and arguably a little crazy awesome, Connor Swindells takes the whimsical and aristocratic idleness to paroxysm and almost gonzo. The only female character, the Franco-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, an imaginary spy in the service of De Gaulle (who seeks to recruit the Free French forces within the British commandos) finds with accuracy the subtle mixture between the cartoon representations of the femme fatale of the 1940s, the French charm such as we imagine it in the world, and the calculating intelligence of the intelligence services. All the actors do tons for the role, but never play around. The casting is magnetic, endearing and is one of the other great successes of this season.

Rhythmic signature, recognizable aesthetic, sumptuous photography, epic and rich story of the audacious madness of reality, events that resonate in world history by marking the birth of a modern mode of warfare like guerrillas and skirmishes, impeccable cast delivering a living game for a time of excess… It was enough for Rogue Heroes become the most essential series season I’ve watched in 2022.

4 stars

Denis Verloes

Rogue Heroes – Season 1
British series by Tom Shankland
Starring: Connor Swindells, Jack O’Connell, Alfie Allen, Tom Glynn-Carney, Dominic West…
Genre: War, Drama
6 episodes of 55 min, posted online (
Available on Canal+ since October 30, 2022

[Canal+] Rogue Heroes: “Dash, kill, come back” to an AC/DC tune – Benzine Magazine