4 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
BBC Two's Waterford-shot war drama airs next week; Anthony Boyle and Leah McNamara discuss Danny Boy
06 May 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Pauline Turner, Anthony Boyle, Leah McNamara and Alex Ferns in Danny Boy.
The 90 minute film for BBC Two sees Northern Irish actor Anthony Boyle (Derry Girls) play real-life soldier Brian Wood, who is accused of war crimes in Iraq by the tenacious human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, played by Toby Jones.

The two men go head to head in a legal and moral conflict that takes us from the battlefield - at so-called Checkpoint Danny Boy - to the courtroom, and one of Britain’s biggest ever public inquiries, the Al-Sweady Inquiry.

Danny Boy is the gripping true story of a young man’s journey from hero to alleged war criminal, the determined lawyer on his tail, and their search for truth in the fog of war.

Due to Covid restriction, the production was unable to film outside of the British Isles, so instead turned to the unlikely location of Waterford as a substitute for Iraq. “Sam’s done an incredible job of making it look like Iraq when it was some freezing pitch in Watford,” Anthony Boyle said in a recent interview.

Boyle, who has recently been cast in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ upcoming series Masters of the Air,also worked closely with the real Brian Wood in preparation for the series. At a recent press event, exec producer Sue Horth, director Sam Miller and writer Robert Jones gave insight into the importance of Brian’s involvement with production and how he advised Boyle on ways to make his performance as authentic as possible.

“Brian’s perspective, his emotional experience, sits at the core of our drama,” Horth said. Director Sam Miller added that Brian’s subtle influence helped Boyle become absorbed in his role; “he would encourage Anthony to take his beret home and shape it so it fit onto his head,” the director explained. 

Boyle himself recently alluded to some of the extensive prep work he did with Wood ahead of filming. “We were going to have a two-hour meeting and then we ended up being there for seven hours,” said Boyle who explained how the pair used chairs to map out the room and work through how certain things happened on the battlefield. “To look into the eyes of someone who’s actually been there was just invaluable,” Boyle added.

Boyle also remained in an English accent for the entirety of the shoot; “he brought a level of candidness and realness to it that was really exciting to work with,” Miller said.

The drama is said to richly explore the effects that Brian’s experience has not just on him, but also on his family: his father and ex-soldier, Gavin, played by Alex Ferns; his mother Margaret, played by Pauline Turner; and his wife Lucy, played by Leah McNamara. The series also features an appearance from IFTA-winning Irish actor Tom Vaughan Lawlor (Rialto).

McNamara (Dublin Murders), who spoke to IFTN earlier this year, told us that she had a lot of fun working on Danny Boy. “Anthony and I play husband and wife and he is genuinely the loveliest guy, as is Sam Miller and fellow cast mates Alex Ferns and Pauline Turner,” she explained.

“They are all so talented. Sam is incredibly chilled as a director and makes you feel totally at ease. We all had a great laugh on set. Though we enjoyed ourselves, we were still dealing with a really serious subject, particularly as it is based on the true story of real people,” McNamara continued. “Danny Boy is a really important film that will hopefully highlight the devastation of war and the impact it has on those who have served and their families.”

As mentioned above, Danny Boy was filmed during Covid and marked many of the crews first time back on the set of a production since the pandemic began. McNamara felt that the way in which the show was conducted was a testament to the resilience and commitment of the cast and crew;“…it was definitely a really different experience,” McNamara recounted. “While it comes with its challenges, it’s amazing to see everyone pull together and I think in some ways it has introduced a more efficient way of working on set,” 

Danny Boy is made by Expectation for the BBC. It is written by Bafta-winner Robert Jones and directed by Sam Miller, and also stars Alex Ferns, Pauline Turner, and Kiran Sonia Sawar. Executive Producers are Colin Barr and Susan Horth for Expectation, with Lucy Richer, Jo McClellan and Clare Sillery for the BBC.

Danny Boy will debut on BBC Two next Wednesday at 9pm and will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

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