Personally, I love period pieces about the twilight of the British Empire. I don’t know about you, but as a student I was never taught all that much about the British in the Middle East and I think most of my impressions of the situation were based on David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia until well into my adulthood. As it turns out, a lot of interesting things happened. Like the Aden Emergency of 1963, the lead-up to which is the setting for Amazon’s BBC military drama The Last Post.
Aden, on the coast of present-day Yemen, was a strategically crucial commerce hub as well as major oil refinery town for British Petroleum. And not everyone in town was interested in being a subject of the Crown. A militant group called the National Liberation Front started a conflict with Royal Military police in January 1963. We drop into the military base about a month before that, as a retiring officer is on his way out and Joe Martin (Jeremy Neumark Jones), “the new man,” is on his way in. The departing officer is killed on his way out of town, and Martin and his new wife, Honor (Jessie Buckley), find themselves promptly in over their heads.
The Last Post is an interesting mélange of suspense and soap opera: In the three episodes made available to critics, there are already affairs, murders and assassinations, pregnancies and births, abductions and espionage, and in the same three episodes there’s not yet a ton of nuance on the “good guy”/“bad guy” front. Stephen Campbell Moore, as Ed Laithwaite—the guy who got passed over for Martin’s new job—is an especially interesting character, supplying a much-needed counterweight to the “Britain is a benevolent empire” party line. He knows that he’s always going to be outranked, because he understands the people of Aden don’t see the empire that way and speaks out about it. He’s also remarkably resistant to taking crap for not “controlling” his promiscuous, mouthy, chain-smoking, alcoholic wife, Alison (Jessica Raine), who befriends Honor, to the ongoing dismay of the rank-obsessed Joe. Joe finds his position tenuous both on- and off-duty from the beginning, as an attempt to capture the man who killed his predecessor goes badly wrong and his new wife seems not to be all that interested in being kept “under control”—and that’s before a serious complication develops involving a voluptuous and cocksure American journalist (Essie Davis).
The desert itself is photographed with a kind of slow, bleak beauty that emphasizes it as a character in its own right; in the all-important hierarchy of the military, no one outranks the desert. The overall period feel of the episodes is strong, and three episodes in, I’m definitely interested in finding out where it’s all going. So far, I’m finding it watchable but not astounding. With the conspicuous exception of the Laithwaite family, the characters and situations are a bit on the predictable side, but the production’s solid, the writing capable, and the acting generally very good, so I think it has every chance of becoming something quite interesting.
The Last Post premieres Friday, Dec. 22 on Amazon Prime Video.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.