Reg: Jimmy McGovern’s drama tells the story of a father’s fight for justice

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Reg: Jimmy McGovern’s drama tells the story of a father’s fight for justice

June 07, 2016 - 17:42
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In 2003 Lance Corporal Thomas Keys was one of six badly equipped military policemen brutally murdered by Iraqi insurgents.

Reg: Richard Keys (Elliot Tittenson), Sally (Anna Maxwell-Martin), Reg (Tim Roth) and Bob Clay (Ralph Brown)

By Henrietta Knight

In 2003 Lance Corporal Thomas Keys was one of six badly equipped military policemen brutally murdered by Iraqi insurgents.

Jimmy McGovern’s hauntingly powerful BBC1 drama Reg tells the story of the father’s fight for justice for his son.

Reg Keys was thwarted in his efforts to meet Tony Blair, who made himself unavailable to the grieving family while appearing on television and cracking jokes to a joint session of the US congress. Two years later Reg stood for election in Sedgefield against the Prime Minister.

Tom’s commander admitted to Reg that the Red Caps had been “descaled” and left to fend for themselves with only 50 rounds of ammunition and no satellite phones.

Tim Roth portrays Reg’s simmering rage for his son’s needless death with understated compassion. His stellar performance is extraordinarily moving. We see his wife Sally (Anna Maxwell-Martin) drinking heavily to forget and falling into a catatonic depression from which she finally died in 2011, aged just 57. The film is dedicated to her.

The former ambulance driver and paramedic said that he might eventually find it in his heart to forgive Blair for what happened to his 20-year-old son, but that he would never forgive him for the destruction of his beloved Sally. The couple had retired from Birmingham to the countryside of North Wales where they hoped their two sons, who were both in the army, would come to visit.

When the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group’s report concluded that there had never been any weapons of mass destruction and that Thomas and thousands of others had been sent to war on a lie, Reg began his campaign for justice.

“When you die in war, there is no compassion. No whispers from a loving wife or mother. Just your mates’ screams and your killers’ snarling hatred,” he explains.

“If this war had been justified by international law, I would have grieved and not campaigned. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, I would have grieved and not campaigned.”

The David versus Goliath-style election was driven by agent Bob Clay, impressively portrayed by Withnail & I’s Ralph Brown and the Keys’ other military son Richard (Elliot Tittenson).

We see Reg unscrew his son’s coffin to make an inventory of his horrific wounds. Then he lies to Sally saying that he was killed by a single shot to the head to shield her from the terrible truth. I did wonder if the scene actually happened. Perhaps it is a metaphoric autopsy into Blair’s Britain.

As the results were announced. Roth was dropped into the real news footage of Reg Keys' finest hour while the families of the other dead soldiers listened at home. The father got to make his passionate speech asking the PM to apologise to the families of military personnel killed in Iraq.

In the key final scene, Reg at long last had his say as Tony and Cherie stood behind him looking stony-faced and unwavering. Arguably this was a pivotal moment from which Blair's reputation has never recovered.

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SCARFMAN_'s picture


Reg Keys : "A five hundred strong mob armed to their teeth baying for blood, came after my son and he had fifty bullets and no radio. Now I can accept that just about, but if I find out this war didn't have to be fought and he died for nothing I will never accept that, I will never let that die".

This was a BBC1 drama by Robert Pugh and the always brilliant writer Jimmy McGovern, based on the remarkable true story of how one grieving father took on the then serving British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 2005 general election. The man in question is Reg Keys, whose son(Tom Keys) died of a brutal death whilst serving the British Army during the second Iraqi conflict. Reg was enraged regarding the circumstances of his son's death and the reasons as to why Britain went to war. It was a sort of modern day David versus Goliath tale but the difference here being that ultimately Goliath(Tony Blair) won.

After two viewings my opinion is that this drama is a really excellent piece of work. I do not think it was faultless, nevertheless I did find it a very rewarding watch. It was provocative, thought provoking and intensely moving throughout. Admittedly, it was extremely biased against Blair and the second Iraq war but it was not too biased. I never felt that Reg's views ever reached the stage of say being 'anti-war propaganda', it is a credit to both writers that I never felt like I was being preached too.

Before seeing this drama I held Tim Roth in the highest regard as a British actor. My opinion of him has grown even greater now because I thought he gave an absolutely exceptional performance in his portrayal of Reg Keys. It was a somewhat understated performance but one that also at the same time had a purposeful directness to it. I really liked Reg. It was a controlled performance in terms of aggression rather than him ever getting hysterical, which as a consequence gave his very emotional speech at the end greater impact.

As I have praised Tim Roth, then it would be unfair of me not to also mention the fantastic performance that actress Ann Maxwell Martin gave as Sally Keys(Reg's wife). I guess there was a danger with this drama that it was just all going to be about Reg and Tim Roth's portrayal of him. Reg was obviously the lead character however it never came across like a one man show. Sally and Ann's superb portrayal of her, were just as important to the story and Reg and Tim were. Her realistic portrayal of a mother who was struck down by immense grief needs applauding. We saw that Sally's solace to the agony of losing her son was drink. Her character was a great counter balance to Reg at times too. For example, she disputed with Reg the comment he made to Tom when they first went to visit his coffin. She argued with him that how could he say he was proud Tom when he not achieved anything in life?

A point that needs further expanding upon is how crucial it was to have included alternative viewpoints to that of Reg's, i.e. not a full ninety minutes of Blair bashing. It added credibility to the piece because not everybody at time saw Reg as a hero and so it was an important acknowledgement. The best example of this was when we saw Reg in Sedgefield knocking on doors during his general election campaigning. We saw one resident claim Reg was stupid for allowing Tom to join the army due to it being too dangerous. Another man had sympathy for the Iraqi fighters that killed Tom and stated how he thought Reg was a "mug".

For the most part I thought the special effects worked really well. I am thinking here of the memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral where archive footage of the actual real event was mixed with the drama footage, which thus made it look like the characters in this drama were actually there at the time of this real event(alongside Blair and others). The most impressive sight of the whole drama for me was when such special effects were used again at the count. It actually looked as if Tim Roth as Reg, was standing alongside Tony Blair as the results of the election were declared. This added a sense of spectacle to the drama. The only time such special effects did not work was near the beginning of the programme, when drama footage was mixed with archive news footage showing the six dead bodies being carried from the warplane after being returned home. It did not look like the actors in this drama were there at the time. I would even go as far to say that this brief section looked a bit amateurish.

Speaking of any criticisms that I had of Reg, then I just wonder whether it might have been better to have shown this drama in two parts rather than just one long one. A ninety minute drama about the emotional subject of the Iraq war required a very committed watch from viewers, maybe it demanded too much concentration from some? I have to admit that around the time Sally had been rushed into hospital my mind had started to wander and think about other things. Then again, in my second viewing my mind did not wander off narrative at all so perhaps this criticism of mine is completely unwarranted. I just wonder if it would have been better to have broken off for the ten o' clock news so viewers had a little break, rather than the news being delayed by thirty minutes like it was. Critics of this suggestion of mine would no doubt argue that this would have ruined the emotional climax that was building in the piece.

Another small criticism I have was to do with the poor sound quality at times. I do not mean to go all 'Happy Valley' on you(famously hit the headlines when it aired this year for having muffled sound) but I did struggle in places to make out what was being said. In my second viewing I realised the sound quality was fine and that it was the Brummie accent of some of the characters that was my struggle. Tim Roth was fine but I did have some issues with some of the diction from Anne Maxwell Martin and Elliott Tittensor(who played Richard Keys, Tom's brother).

During his speech at the count we saw Reg Keys say the following words,

Reg : "If this war had been justified by international law then I would grieved, not campaigned. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, again I would grieved not campaigned".

In the light of watching this superb drama, I am ashamed to admit to you that at the 2005 general election I saw Reg Keys as a bit of an irritant. I saw him as a man who was acting somewhat irrationally due to suffering from the immense torment of grief. This drama has completely changed my view of this man. Reg's story is one that should be celebrated as this drama did so brilliantly well. What Reg did back then for the love of his son Tom and wife Sally, it was indeed heroic. I came away from this drama feeling proud of Reg Keys. I also came away feeling proud of our British democracy, then it enabled David(Reg) to take on Goliath(Tony Blair). Reg was RESOLUTE and RELENTLESS in wanting justice for his son....bravo to him and bravo to Robert Pugh and Jimmy McGovern for writing this wonderful piece of television! 4/5.