When army trainees are sent to the frontlines the cliché kill or be killed goes along with them. Killing on the job is something that soldiers who come back from war often don’t talk about, and something civilians can’t fathom. Blakeway Productions found five former British infantrymen who were willing to speak candidly about the realities of war and created a one-hour doc for BBC2. Realscreen spoke with director Deborah Lee about getting ex-soldiers to speak openly about such rough memories.
Fighting Passions takes the viewer on a linear journey through the beginning of the careers of five soldiers through to the present day and how they feel looking back on their time on the frontlines. Structurally, the doc begins by looking at the soldiers’ motivations for joining the army, then follows through the training process to their deployment to the frontlines, when they are first asked to kill. Ultimately the purpose of Fighting Passions, commissioned by Richard Klein when he was still at BBC2, is to examine how it feels to be in the business of killing and how it has affected these men in the long run.
Deborah Lee and her team on the film tracked down soldiers who were willing to talk about this taboo subject by word of mouth and through more famous cases of soldiers going on the record about their experiences. For instance, one of the subjects of the film is Robert Lawrence, who has been vocal about his time in the Falklands War and whose story has already been turned into a dramatic film. Though Lawrence has been interviewed multiple times about what happened in the war, Lee says he has never been asked to think about the war’s effect on him as he was for Fighting Passions.
‘The army is an institution, and everyone who passes through it is institutionalized,’ says Lee. She and her team were very aware of this going into the project, knowing that they were asking questions as civilians and strangers to a way of life that they could never really get inside. But they delved into the men’s lives the best way they knew how, by fully briefing them ahead of time and explaining in detail the subjects they wanted the men to discuss, making sure they were fully on board before proceeding. ‘It wasn’t easy, but at the same time there was more willingness to discuss [the subject] than I had initially anticipated,’ says Lee.
Blakeway’s Fighting Passions will air May 24 at 10:30pm GMT on BBC2.