Falkland opens with a projected collage of imagery from the time of the Falkands war – punk rock, Brezhnev, Pacman, the Brixton riots, the wedding of Charles and Diana. This is what the UK was thinking about. Not many people even knew where the Falklands were.
With a minimal set, back projections and two fine actors, this tale of 'the war the world forgot' is more moving for the ordinariness of the characters who tell the story.
We then move on. A middle-aged and slightly lame shepherd, Gideon, tends his sheep in the Falkland Islands on a wintry day in 1981, at the start of the 'conflict'. He chats to a young Royal Marine, Fitz, who is digging a trench on the shepherd’s land. They seem to have nothing in common. But Gideon is the son of immigrants who came to the Falklands to escape the dangers of war, having experienced the blitz in London in World War Two. Fitz is from Belfast and enlisted to escape the conflict in Northern Ireland. Both then, in their own way, are refugees from conflict. But, as becomes clear, nowhere in the world is safe. The sleepy Falkland Islands must surely have seemed the the safest place on earth. It might be said that there was nothing there, except sheep. And 'sovereignty'.
Were Argentina and the UK fighting over a relatively insignificant piece of land? Were the islanders politically important? No, it was a question of principle, of sovereignty. As Gideon’s indigenous Falklander wife points out, the British soldiers were just boys, the Argentinian soldiers were just boys. 'It’s boys fighting boys. Where are the adults?'
'Why are we fighting?' she asks. 'For a Union Jack?' But politicians are not adults either, particularly Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who treats the war as political currency. And nor are the press – The Sun declares 'Gotcha!' when an Argentinian ship is torpedoed and sunk.
The character of Gideon is played with subdued and subtle passion by Luke Tudball whilst his wife (and everyone else) is played by Heather Bagnall. Such is the theatrical nature of this play that it enhances rather than detracts from the piece that she also plays the part of Fitz, the young Royal Marine, and also, at the end, his commanding officer.
With a minimal set, back projections and two fine actors, this tale of 'the war the world forgot' is more moving for the ordinariness of the characters who tell the story. It is clear from the telling that borders are notional and wars are ideological. Fathers and grandfathers have gone to war to save their children from ever having to do the same. But in vain. That 'only' 893 people died in this war didn’t make the carnage in those battles any less obscenely traumatic for those who witnessed it.
Fitz thought he was digging a trench, but was he digging his own gave? With quiet humanity and the poignant use of the small (and usually forgotten) moments of human heroism, Falkland marks a moment in history that is a lesson we should all learn. A lesson consistently ignored.