It’s no coincidence that several recent period dramas have included in their narratives Europe’s colonization of the Middle East, Africa or India.
Imperialism could equal the reckless redrawing of borders and servitude for the people of those regions, and those ugly truths were often left out of history books and historical dramas. Recent domestic tragedies, however, have compelled Western storytellers to explore the roots of terrorism — and the global conflicts that spawned such horror.
Season 2 of “The Crown” unpacked England’s role in the early stages of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Indian Summers” intertwined its love stories with the decline of the British Empire and the rise of modern India in the 1930s. “Versailles” looked at the politics behind France’s 17th century conquest across Africa.
“The Last Post,” a six-episode series out Friday on Amazon Prime, focuses on the final days of Britain as a colonial power.
The BBC/Amazon Originals production opens in 1965, in Yemen’s port of Aden, where Britain’s Royal Military Police struggle to maintain a century’s worth of rule over an increasingly hostile population.
The show’s creator, Peter Moffat (HBO’s “The Night Of” and BBC’s “Criminal Justice”), based the series on his childhood memories of his family’s life on a military base in the region in the1960s. That experience surely lends to the authentic feel of the environs — rough, arid terrain that’s as beautiful as it is brutal — and the transplanted characters’ painful steps toward, or away from, assimilation.
Though gorgeously shot and replete with a who’s who cast culled from top-tier British television shows, the first three episodes available for review suffer when they step gingerly around colonial politics, appearing as uncomfortable as its mid-century characters are in exploring those messy intersections between peacekeeping and oppressive foreign occupation.
“The Last Post” follows freshly arrived newlywed Captain Joe Martin (Jeremy Neumark Jones) and his bride, Honor (Jessie Buckley) as they acclimate to life on the base, where other families of the Royal Police try their best to hold onto tradition in a very foreign place.
For example, Alison Laithwaite (Jessica Raine of “Call the Midwife”), becomes an old hand at slaying scorpions with one swift slap from a thick Vogue magazine. A young police officer teaches a local nanny the names of Santa’s reindeer. Scenes like these are wonderful examples of cultures colliding.
But not all is well on the base. Alison drinks too much and sleeps with men who are not her very serious, very dedicated husband Ed (Stephen Campbell Moore). Nanny Yusra Saeed (Ouidad Elma), who works for commander Harry Markham and his wife Mary (Ben Miles and Amanda Drew), has dark secrets that lead to an international incident.
“The Last Post” provides compelling human drama, especially in depicting life on the base. But it feels untethered from history, or perhaps context, without a larger commentary on how events back then got us to where we are today.
The show’s early episodes don’t try all that hard to explain the motives of the insurgency from the perspective of the locals. While it’s clear the story is being told through the eyes of the royal forces and their families, putting a human face on the other side would go a long way in lending this series more depth and background.
Instead, the desert militias behead and kidnap children and appear to suffer no personal or moral conflict. And in the souk, random swarthy men threaten British interlopers in scenes that recall stereotypes from the “Indiana Jones” series. It’s a glaring credibility gap compared with the other nuanced and layered interactions between the servicemen and their families.
The cynical American reporter Martha Franklin (Essie Davis) who follows the police on a mission is likely meant to be the bridge between the motives of royal forces and the Gulf fighters, but in the first half of the series, she serves more as a tantalizing vixen than a window into dueling narratives.
“The Last Post” is worth watching for its depiction of the era, or more specifically, the naive and arrogant idea that an oil-rich Middle East might easily fall into subservience of the crown.
‘The Last Post’
Where: Amazon Prime
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)