Danny Boy star Anthony Boyle: 'We filmed the Iraqi battlefield in a ditch in Watford'

Anthony Boyle as Brian Wood in Danny Boy
Anthony Boyle plays Sergeant Wood in this drama based on real events. (Image credit: Gareth King (BBC).)

Danny Boy starring Anthony Boyle tells the real life story of former soldier, Sergeant Brian Wood, who earned the military cross for gallantry in Iraq, yet was accused of war crimes in the years after he returned home. 

The feature-length film begins in May 2004, when Brian became the first British soldier for 25 years to lead a bayonet charge as his regiment won a famous victory over a host of Iraqi insurgents at The Battle of Danny Boy. 

Named after a nearby British checkpoint, the engagement was one of the fiercest clashes of the Iraq War and Brian returned home a hero, but the most important battle of his life only began after he left the forces…

In the years that followed, the Iraq Historic Abuse Team and noted human rights lawyer Phil Shiner (Toby Jones) accused Brian and his regiment of committing war crimes at Danny Boy, before demanding an inquiry that lasted for almost five years. Anthony tells us more...

Anthony Boyle on playing Brian Wood

"Brian has an extraordinary story. His family has served in the British Army for 300 years, which is amazing and the relationship he has with his father is central to the story. But he also has a young son and there are moments when he’s looking at him thinking 'Am I going to send him off to war? Am I going to put him through what I’ve been through?'  

"Coming home from Iraq and adapting back to normal life was hard enough, but this film explores the realities of war and how they can come back to haunt you."

Toby Jones as Phil Shiner in Danny Boy.

Toby Jones plays human rights lawyer Phil Shiner. (Image credit: Gareth King (BBC).)

Anthony on meeting the real Brian Wood

"Originally, I didn’t want to meet him, I wanted to use the script and a few videos I'd seen of him, but in the end we went to see him and spent hours chatting and eating sandwiches. Looking into his eyes when he was talking about those experiences, both in Iraq and when he got home, was invaluable and we had him on set when we were shooting the battle scenes. But I didn’t want him there when we were filming the emotional domestic scenes, because that would have got in the way a bit!

"There is pressure when you're playing someone who's real, because you know this person exists and they're going to watch this performance. But I think it's also your job to not ignore that and not get too close to the person you're playing. You just need to really focus on is just what's written and the truth of the scene." 

Anthony on filming Danny Boy's battle scenes

"We couldn’t travel abroad due to Covid, so the battlefield in Iraq is actually a ditch in Watford. We filmed in November, so pretending I was in a hot desert when I was actually freezing was challenging. In fact I think it’s some of the best acting I’ve ever done!

"We had some weapons training for a couple of weeks and Brian was there as well, which was really useful. He would be telling us at which point your training would be kicking in or when your blood would be up, but by the end my knees were pretty ruined!" 

Anthony Boyle as Brian Wood in Danny Boy

The battle scenes set in Iraq were actually filmed in Watford. (Image credit: Gareth King (BBC).)

Anthony on the Wood family's history in the military

"His family has served in the British Army for 300 years, which is amazing. We talked about having that weight on your shoulders every day, but that's something the Wood family were bred for. It wasn't for political reasons, but Brian said he wanted to be the tip of the spear and that's just who they are, you know?" 

Danny Boy airs on BBC2 on Wednesday 12 May at 9pm.

Sean Marland

Sean is a Senior Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week, who also writes for whattowatch.com. He's been covering the world of TV for over 15 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.