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Thursday
Oct262017

« In Which The British Empire Returns In Full Force »

The Crater

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Last Post
creator Peter Moffat
BBC One

Honor Martin (Jessie Buckley) arrives at RAF Khormaksar in Yemen at a most inopportune time. She has been taken into the final belch of the British colonial experiment when no one in her right mind should have ventured into such a place, let alone an Irish woman, let alone as a British subject. It is a good thing that Jessie Buckley, most recently of Steven Knight's disastrously dull series Taboo, is probably the most exciting young actress in the entire business, because the rest of The Last Post is a morbid, gloomy, and somewhat racist affair.

Under more normal circumstances - say a Gosford Park-clone set in turn of the century India? - Buckley would be outshone by her counterpart, the salacious, sexual, adulterous, sexual Alison Laithwaite (the versatile, flexible Jessica Raine). But not even the sun could diminish how appealing any redhead looks in a desert biome. Honor Martin's husband is the dreadful Joe Martin (Jeremy Jones), the most generic British soldier one could ever imagine. This is no matter, because The Last Post is all about fast-forwarding past the nonsensical conversations men have about subject like torture, imperialism and the love of fellow soldiers and country and getting to the really important material: sex in the time of cholera.

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For an ostensibly historical series, The Last Post makes a disturbed mess of its past. It treats the Sunni and Shia residents of the region as relatively indistinct, and only barely pauses to consider that they might have slightest justification for their violence. Which is not to say there isn't a lot of "both sides," just that I can't realistically argue one of those sides.

Again, though, the parallels to the current war on terrorism are pretty much exhausting and exhausted. Politics has become a separate field of inquiry; whatever relevance it bears to our actual day-to-day existence can only be described as a painful imposition. This similarity is present in 1960s Yemen, which is actually South Africa disguised as Yemen since it is more practical to shoot The Last Post there. It's a desert, though, and one looks like another.

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Let me get back to Jessie Buckley. Sometimes they put her in citrus colors, and you can barely look at the screen, but mostly she is rotating through a very entertaining set of outfits. She pops out such bon mots as, "I should check on George" and "This will be our honeymoon!" as if they were actual things a person would say. She has the innate ability to make anything believable.

In contrast, we first meet Jessica Raine's Alison when she is underneath a soldier who is not her husband. She moves her body less precisely when she is not engaged in sex, but in any capacity she wields it like any actor should. She is really the only innately interesting character here, and her disease is that of Britain as a whole — the completely forgivable sin of inflated self-importance.

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Is this an oblique warning to America, or am I just getting paranoid? This disturbing reiteration of the basic lessons of Mad Men has been extremely shocking to British viewers, particularly a scene in which Alison attempts a homemade abortion. If this had been on Mad Men, people would have barely talked about it the next day. She never actually does it, which is the difference between the two.

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As in The Last Post's American inspiration, children play a critical role. It is they who are continually thrust into the thick of danger, whether that be in the water or in the darkness. Creator Peter Moffat is intent on replicating the symbolism that inevitably ensues when we thrust children into the danger meant for adults. No responsible society could live with this state of affairs, so the implication is devastatingly clear.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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