Harry’s Arctic Heroes, BBC One, review

Benji Wilson reviews the first part of Harry’s Arctic Heroes (BBC One), in which Prince Harry accompanies four wounded soldiers on a polar expedition; plus Channel 4’s one-off drama Random.


As I sit here typing, knowing that my greatest struggle today will probably consist of changing a printer cartridge, the scale of my admiration for the severely injured soldiers who decided to trek to the North Pole in last night’s Harry’s Arctic Heroes (BBC One) is somewhere approaching intergalactic.

Four British soldiers, all badly wounded in Afghanistan, set out on an unsupported walk to the Pole. Their injuries had smashed them to bits both physically – two arms and a leg amputated; a broken back and 32 operations between the four of them – as well as mentally. Every one of them just wanted to be back soldiering; they never will.

Three of the four were wounded as recently as 2009. This trip was announced in March 2010. Which means that at the same time as some of them were being told by doctors that they would never walk again, they were already deciding where they were going to walk to. It was never-quit determination as narcotic, stout-heartedness of a simply stupefying level.

“If you put your mind to it, there’s nothing that can stop you,” said Pte Jaco Van Gass, 26. It was the kind of remark that’s been rendered almost trite on TV thanks to The X Factor and all of its contestants’ “journeys” but it sounded very different coming from a man who had lost an arm and a third of the muscle on one leg less than a year before. There were two glaring things that could stop Jaco, surely, no matter how much he puts his mind to it. In fact it’s to be hoped that next week’s second episode of Arctic Heroes, which covers the actual trek itself, shows a bit more about just how in the hell they did do it. Three weeks lugging sleds across the barren pole must be somewhere close to a physical impossibility for these men.

Prince Harry, who went with them as patron and figurehead, was rather impressive too, in a different way. No one feels particularly at ease with a Handycam shoved in their face but the Prince obviously has an instinctive distrust of cameramen. Oddly, his unease here was rather endearing. It added to the sense of him being someone who doesn’t want to be given special treatment. Occasionally the camera would catch him unawares – the silly dance to some bangin’ house music was a good one – and you’d get some idea of who Prince Harry actually is, away from the tabloids and the pomp.

His own self-assessment got it just about right, one suspects: “I like to think I’m one of the lads, whether I am or not.” Certainly, these lads saw him as one of the lads, even though they knew he really wasn’t. “He is obviously a prince but he is also obviously a squaddie,” said Capt Martin Hewitt, whose left arm was paralysed. What Hewitt meant was obvious when you saw the Prince mucking in with the soldiers. He was immediately comfortable in a way he wasn’t with the camera crew.

“After seeing how these guys have dealt with it, if I did go back, I wouldn’t have as much fear,” said the Prince, trying to summarise what the whole endeavour meant to him having served in Afghanistan himself. “If I did go back and I do get hit, I hope I end up like these guys.”

Pick that apart and you’ll see that in his own mildly blokeish way, it was a deeply touching – and personal – tribute.

Over on Channel 4, dangerously close to past bedtime, Random was a one-off drama that had been adapted from a stage play by its original author, Debbie Tucker Green. Tucker Green also directed here. Random followed a girl known only as Sister (Nadine Marshall) through the trials and tribulations of a normal day living in Hackney – bickering with mother over breakfast, setting off to work, the blank despair of the dull desk job – until in the afternoon, with little ceremony or signposting, her brother was shot on the street. As the title suggested, it was entirely random, which made it different to just about any other drama involving a murder you will see on TV. Take out the hopscotch of motive, method, blame and guilt that is the skeleton of all cop drama and you’re left with the dumbstruck reality of a pointless killing. In this case all that you saw was a happy family become a sad family, and the moral of the story was, there wasn’t one.

Tucker Green threw the whole ragbag of televisual techniques at the film – a split narrative, text on screen, stills, interior monologues – and initially it felt like showing off. But the central performance of Nadine Marshall as Sister was so completely masterful – her voice exquisite, a lifetime of future pain communicated through sad, sad eyes – that Random got away with it.

If this is the kind of thing Channel 4 has lined up to replace Big Brother then something good has happened in the world.

Gearbest TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic
TS - BT35A08 Bluetooth 3.0 Car Audio Music Receiver with Handsfree Function Mic only $2.99