Earlier this week the outgoing head Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, reportedly urged Channel 4 to drop The Taking of Prince Harry--its fictional documentary-style drama that explores what would happen if the Royal was kidnapped while serving in Afghanistan. In a letter to C4 bosses, Stirrup is alleged to have expressed fears that the show’s content could put troops in danger and upset their families.
But the channel says the programme (which aired at 9pm last night) “…is a serious journalistic examination of a current issue. It treats the subject matter sensitively.” Certainly, the makers didn’t sensationalise the scenario (well, not as much as they could have) or pluck it from nowhere: the Prince has publicly expressed his desire to return to the warzone and is currently learning to fly Apache helicopter gunships. His re-deployment would mean beefing up security not only for himself but his entire regiment, and preparing for a Royal kidnap. So does Stirrup have a point? Was Channel 4 being irresponsible by postulating its own expert-informed scenario, potentially revealing key strategic information? We don’t think so.
Any Taliban tuning in from Tora Bora would have been disappointed by the lack of juicy military secrets. We’re told, for instance, the not so surprising detail that the British government uses skilled negotiators to talk to kidnappers. And the fact that the Old Boys at the Ministry of Defence officially don’t pay ransoms is ancient news. Any way you look at it, it’s difficult to see how hostage takers would use the programme as a how-to manual. Though, it’s possible some acting students might use the show as a how-not-to guide.
Equally, it’s difficult to see how the programme would upset soldiers’ families who are, presumably, acutely aware of the risks their loved ones face. Much more brutal reminders of the human cost of the Afghan war are broadcast daily on the Ten O’Clock News. If an imagined documentary about a Royal in peril is one blow too many, then don’t watch--it’s not compulsory.
What will have aggravated viewers, though, is how the programme failed to tell you anything you don’t already know. It’s also been hammered together with minimal love given to the acted parts. But that’s how it is with docudrama. Because it’s impossible to become absorbed in a performance that's interrupted every few minutes by a “real life” talking head, directors rarely bother to cast thoughtfully or commission a decent script. The Taking of Prince Harry was workmanlike and watchable but, thanks to the PR machine that is the MOD, overhyped. Do you agree?