The Daily Telegraph
The first-hand horror of the scramble to leave Kabul
The day after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden appeared on television to declare the mission “an extraordinary success”. Have words ever rung so hollow? Escape from Kabul Airport (BBC Two) gave us the inside story. This intense film was told through the eyes of three sets of people: the US Marines charged with manning the operation, the Taliban fighters who seized control, and the ordinary Iraqis who had tried to get out.
It was a hellish tale. Mobile phone and helmet-cam footage captured the humanitarian disaster on the ground, and the impossible task facing the Marines. You may have caught scenes on the news bulletins, but this film plunged us into the midst of it as thousands mobbed the airport in the hope of securing passage out. Desperate families thrusting babies and toddlers over the razor wire into the arms of soldiers; bewildered children whose parents were missing, perhaps dead. And a truly horrendous sight: a plane taking off with men attempting to cling to its fuselage, then the camera showing a body falling hundreds of feet to the tarmac.
Director Jamie Roberts elicited clear and honest interviews from his subjects, such as the Marines on camera here. The most compelling was Lt Col Christopher Richardella, whose men were required to hold the airport. They had expected to conduct a relatively orderly evacuation; then Richardella learned that the government had collapsed and the Taliban had the airport surrounded. Soon, they were overrun. At one point they received intelligence that a vehicle-borne IED was heading their way. We saw them in the footage, sitting ducks by the roadside.
The film’s focus was narrow – no mention of Britain scrambling to get people out, despite this being a BBC co-production with HBO – but the context was made plain: the Americans and the Taliban had been trying to kill each other for years and now here they were, standing uneasily a few metres apart.
A string of Taliban fighters appeared on camera. They spoke of their hatred for the Americans and crowed at the withdrawal, which to them represented victory. One Taliban commander said he was shocked by the state of the people massed outside the airport: “They suffered terribly. They were hungry, they were thirsty, and conditions were appalling.” At this point, you wanted the director to step in and say: they put themselves in that situation because they were desperate to get away from you. Anita Singh
The Star Wars universe has taken a bit of a battering of late, from fans and from critics, but now there is a new hope. Andor (Disney+), the streamer’s latest TV spin-off, is an agreeably chewy prequel to the best of the recent-ish Jedi films, Rogue One.
Taut and dark, it has all the hallmarks of a project overseen by a grown-up – specifically Bourne Identity writer Tony Gilroy – rather than the overcaffeinated nerds to whom these endeavours are typically entrusted by the Magic Kingdom’s Sith Lords.
Gilroy was called in at the 11th hour to rewrite Rogue One, his blend of grit and stardust carrying it over the line. Andor isn’t always so accomplished – often when it fancies itself “noir-ish”, it is merely sullen – yet it nonetheless brings intelligence and passion to the origin story of Diego Luna’s antihero, Cassian Andor. Crotchety Cassian was introduced in Rogue One, where he helped steal the blueprint to the Death Star. Here, in a prequel to the prequel, he’s a grumpy smuggler on a scrapyard planet loosely controlled by the Empire, thrust into a reluctant partnership with the Rebel Alliance.
Gilroy recently said that Star Wars
represented the ultimate sandbox – it can be whatever you want it to be. In his case, he’s decided he wants it to be the backdrop to a sci-fi Ken Loach movie. The tone is glum from the outset, as is the cast, including Stellan Skarsgård as the Rebel sympathiser who recruits Andor to the cause and Fiona Shaw as Andor’s adoptive mother.
Luna’s bad-boy scowl was one of the big draws in Rogue One, his edgy vibe brought to mind Han Solo with the safety cap off. Taking that bleak aura as its cue, Andor goes where no Star Wars
vehicle has ventured previously. This is established when the first episode opens with our hero visiting a brothel in search of his missing sister.
Luna is a coiled spring throughout and Andor as a whole is bunched up with a tension which, in the first four episodes at least, is never fully unleashed. But the new series isn’t an insult to the original movies and
– set against the recent track record – what a scintillating improvement that represents. Ed Power
Escape from Kabul Airport ★★★★ Andor ★★★