With the recent centenary, the gravity of the First World War has been impressed on all of us. The poppies at the Tower of London, the war poetry and history lessons have all contributed to an awareness of the suffering endured by so many. In cinema, there are a plethora of fantastic films giving both fictional and factual accounts of First and Second World War stories: Saving Private Ryan, The Great Escape, All Quiet on the Western Front. But where is the modern British war film, depicting the bravery of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan? The answer – Kajaki: The True Story.
The film tells of horrific events which took place one day in Afghanistan only 8 years ago. A three-man patrol sets out to disable a Taliban road-block. One wrong foot and chaos descends; an explosion leads to the discovery that the ground under their boots is an old Soviet mine-field. Corporal Stuart Hale’s leg is blown apart below the knee, and the horrifyingly convincing prosthetics are sadly not the last you’ll see. The rescue mission that follows forms a nail-biting, tension-filled narrative, and one of the most incredible stories of heroism to surface this year.
What is striking about this film is the filmmaking team’s passion and commitment to authenticity. At the question-and-answer session following the screening, writer Tom Williams and Director Paul Katis described how upon discovering the story, they immediately contacted the veterans and based the script entirely on their first-hand accounts – from the terrifying realism of the detonations and injuries, to the banter and brotherhood which keeps the film so endearing. The combination of respect and sobriety with humour and light-heartedness was masterfully executed.
‘Entertaining’ would however be a problematic description for this film. Kajaki is not an easy watch; the clever omission of a musical score has each crunch of gravel and audible breath increasing tension levels to an excruciating height, keeping audience adrenaline pumping throughout. Williams described the story as ‘delightfully apolitical’ in that there were no Taliban to contend with, so the story centres entirely on the soldiers’ daily bravery and not the reasons for their presence in Afghanistan in the first place.
Present at the screening were both the actor playing Tug Hartley (Game of Thrones’ Mark Stanley) and the man himself, the medic in the field responsible for saving the lives of the injured soldiers. Witnessing his humility after watching Kajaki’s account of his unbelievable bravery was a humbling experience. When explaining his reaction to two men turning up on his doorstep wanting to make a film about the day, he said ‘People don’t make films about people like us.’ And they don’t. They haven’t. That is why Kajaki is a film everyone should see. It’s not about the politics – it’s about the men, the bravery and the brotherhood, and Kajaki depicts them all in the most truthful and heart-wrenching light.
Images: Pukka Films