When a Special Forces operation prompts a Taliban counter-attack in Afghanistan’s deadly Helmand Province, a British unit’s three-day patrol soon hits double figures. Faced with low ammunition, injury and rising tensions under the command of a man, Captain William Richardson (Ben Righton), clearly out of touch with his men, the exhausted, disillusioned soldiers (including One Man, Two Guvnors’ Owain Arthur, Nicholas Beveney and Daniel Fraser) begin to question their role in a seemingly never-ending conflict. Intersected by an interview with Capt. Richardson by a Jeremy Paxton-style commentator following the apparent failure of the squad’s mission, the audience are left to mull as the brotherhood slowly unravels under the constant fire of unseen aggressors.
Early on, one of the soldiers describes how, for young men of just sixteen or seventeen, time spent on the vast plains of Helmand could be comparable to packing the nation’s youth off for an extended tour of a distant world. This sense of alienation is key to the success of Petch’s naturalistic, low-key war drama. Away from their families and with only the occasional cigarette and/or round of banter to serve as a mild distraction, the prospect of combat is an oppressive ever-present. Worse still is the uncertainty over how long their stay in the desert will be, exacerbated further by dwindling supplies and inferior weaponry. Surprisingly, one of film’s most compelling scenes stems from a discussion on the standard-issue SA80 rifle compared with the superior arms of the Americans and Taliban. Slight but subversive, Petch’s The Patrol does enough to earn its stripes.