Shot in South Africa with Film Afrika, The Last Post is a six-part BBC One series set against the backdrop of the creation of an independent Yemen: a close-up view of army life set in the heat, glamour and extreme danger of Aden in the swinging sixties.
As The New York Times wrote, "The fall of the British Empire and the rise of Arab nationalism have rarely looked as ravishing as they do in The Last Post, a highly scenic evocation of the days of gin and tonics at the club and discreet bed-hopping in the officers' quarters."
Written by BAFTA winner Peter Moffat (Criminal Justice and its US remake, The Night Of), The Last Post is based on his childhood memories of his father's career as an officer in the Royal Military Police and his mother's struggle between being what the army required her to be and what she felt like being. "This was my parents' world and one I have wanted to write about all my career," says Peter.
As The Los Angeles Times wrote, The Last Post stars "a who's who cast culled from top-tier British television shows," including Jessie Buckley (Taboo, War & Peace), Jessica Raine (Call The Midwife, Patrick Melrose), Amanda Drew (Broadchurch), Ben Miles (The Crown), Tom Glynn-Carney (Dunkirk), Jeremy Neumark Jones (One Of Us), Stephen Campbell Moore (The Bank Job) and Chris Reilly (Call The Midwife), who was nominated as Best Actor at BAFTA Scotland this year for his role as Sergeant Alex Baxter.
If you don't know much about the history of Aden, neither did many of the cast. As Amanda said on set, "I had heard of Aden but was ashamed by how little I knew, although slightly comforted when a lot of other people said the same thing. I've been doing a lot of fascinating reading, one book in particular by Jonathan Walker, called Aden Insurgency. Not only does the situation seem strangely remote, but it also seems like, 'Oh dear, this is a situation that we keep finding ourselves in' because, you know, we still feel this need to go in to other countries and sort things out for them. While that on the surface might seem like a laudable endeavour, it often causes a lot more problems."
"During my research I stumbled upon an internet forum for people who were children in Aden in the sixties," says Jessica. "Their words and images offered a snapshot of families living an idyllic life, occasionally shattered by the odd grenade being lobbed over the wall, deliberately targeting children and families. It was hard to get my head around living in that situation. There is something funny and disturbing about trying to maintain British values under those conditions, whilst blithely unaware that they're not welcomed there."
South African audiences will get additional pleasure from trying to match the Middle East settings to their Cape Town locations. "In looking for a match for Aden we knew we needed coast, mountains and desert but with a colonial influence in terms of architecture," says Emmy-nominated executive producer Mark Pybus (Wolf Hall). "Cape Town doubled perfectly for all these elements so it was an easy decision to base ourselves there. Finding a disused British naval base that overlooked Simon's Town bay enabled us to give our drama the kind of scale it is normally difficult to achieve on a television shoot."
The cast raved about their experience of shooting in South Africa, repeatedly calling it "a treat."
"It's a real treat to be filming in such a naturally beautiful landscape," said Amanda on set. "The climate is extraordinary and the quality of light is like crystal, so bright and invigorating. And from the documentary footage I've seen it mirrors incredibly the environment of Aden. The windy but very hot landscape is stunning but also remote, somewhat unforgiving, and dangerous. It feeds in very naturally to the acting."
"Filming in Cape Town while it's winter in England has been a real treat," echoed Jessica. "The heat, especially in the desert, was a challenge. But the payoff is that landscape is phenomenal."
Jessica wasn't the only British cast member to struggle with the heat. "There was one day when it was 45 degrees and it is astonishingly hard to deal with," says Jeremy. "As soon as you drank, the water would just evaporate back out because it was so dry and so hot. My hair is still a couple of shades lighter due to sun bleaching."
Similarly Chris says, that while the heat helped maintain the illusion they were in Aden, "If I'd had my way we would have stayed in the barracks set!"
But Stephen credits shooting in South Africa with helping to create the camaraderie on set. "We got to share a lot of experiences that bound us together," he says. "On our days off, we hung out and hiked Table Mountain or went to the beach. It was a lovely job and full of fun."
Being a British military show though, even the fraternising was structured, especially during the week-long boot camp in South Africa for the male cast to prepare. "They segregated our accommodation so the actors playing officers were in one place and the actors playing grunts in the other," says Chris. "So as much as we're bonded, we're bonded in the proper way. I think that was by design so we know where the boundaries are."
The Last Post has a 95% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hollywood Reporter called it, "Taut, brisk, moving and gorgeous;" Indiewire hailed it as "a feast for the eyes... both patient and powerful;" and The Daily Dot called it "an intriguing exploration of history that teaches lessons we still haven't learned... a little bit Mad Men... a little bit Army Wives... most definitely unique."
Binge-watch all six episodes of The Last Post, first and only on Showmax in South Africa.