January 23, 2018

Review: An Empire Declines, Awash in Adultery and Gin and Tonics

Review: An Empire Declines, Awash in Adultery and Gin and Tonics


From left, Jessie Buckley and Jessica Raine in “The Last Post.”

Amazon Prime Video

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.

Following the martial and romantic adventures of a Royal Military Police unit in Aden in 1965, “Post” (available Friday from Amazon Prime) alludes, distantly, to actual events that would lead to the creation of an independent Yemen. In the first three (of six) episodes, the complacency of the colonial backwater is literally blown apart by a rocket-propelled grenade, and British casualties mount from there.

The growing violence, and the occupiers’ reactions to it — occasionally subtle, mostly rigid — carry the story forward. But “The Last Post” is really all about the texture of expatriate life and the brutal beauty of the desert landscapes. (It was filmed in South Africa.) The show’s creator and principal writer, Peter Moffat, was the son of an R.M.P. officer and lived in Aden as a child, and its primary seductions have to do with nostalgia: the British Overseas Airways Corporation logo stenciled on an airport hangar; the tight, colorful print dresses on the women; the crisp khaki shorts on the men.

The action is decidedly adult, both in the desert, where the body count is surprisingly high, and in the officers’ apartments, where adultery and alcohol figure prominently. It seems as if it’s being seen from a child’s point of view, though — everything a little larger and sexier than life, everyone good-hearted and noble despite their flaws. A senior officer’s son who is full of questions about his father’s work plays with a set of toy soldiers, which become a metaphor for the overmatched military policemen.

Mr. Moffat is known in the United States for his connection to the HBO series “The Night Of …” — he wrote the British series, “Criminal Justice,” on which it was based. “The Night Of …” was written by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, though, and Mr. Moffat’s own work, including “Criminal Justice” and the legal drama “Silk,” is slicker and soapier.

That’s true of the “The Last Post,” whose characters are mostly familiar narrative types. The three central women, all military wives, are immediately identifiable as the den mother, the ingénue (she burns the toast and screams at the sight of a scorpion) and the tramp.

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