'Danny Boy' — everything you need to know about the BBC factual drama

Anthony Boyle as Brian Wood in Danny Boy
Anthony Boyle as Brian Wood in Danny Boy. (Image credit: BBC / Gareth King)

Danny Boy is an emotional, feature-length factual drama coming from the BBC later this year. From the description alone, it sounds like it might well be one of the best BBC dramas this year.

Focussing on one soldier’s plight as he’s embroiled in a public scandal over his conduct in Iraq, the film is a thought-provoking drama that asks questions about what we have to ask of those who fight for our country.

It's written by BAFTA-winner Robert Jones (Murder, Party Animals), and directed by Sam Miller, best known for his work on I May Destroy You and Luther. Miller says he is 'enormously proud of what the actors achieved', and calls the film 'very moving.'

Here’s everything you need to know about Danny Boy!

Danny Boy release date 

Danny Boy originally aired on BBC2 on May 12, and is available to watch BBC iPlayer now if you missed it! 

Danny Boy cast 

Anthony Boyle leads the cast as soldier Brian Wood, with Toby Jones featuring as human rights lawyer Phil Shiner. 

Also featured are: Alex Ferns as Gavin, Brian’s ex-soldier father, Pauline Turner as Brian’s mother, Margaret, and Leah McNamara as Lucy, Brian’s wife.

Toby Jones says: "films like Danny Boy explore key moments and retrieve moments of our history and look at their significance in a way that ongoing, flashing news 24 hours a day does not. 

"There’s a danger that we lose the moment of these things and a story like this retrieves a moment in our history and - like all the best drama - asks some unanswerable questions about what we ask of our soldiers and the armed forces, and where victory ultimately lies."

The BBC's first-look images ahead of the film can be seen below:

What’s the plot? 

Danny Boy is a factual drama that follows a young soldier called Brian Wood. The drama follows Brian as his world is turned upside down; once a decorated war hero, he ends up accused of committing war crimes in Iraq by determined human rights lawyer, Phil Shiner.

The show then sees the two men going head to head, jumping from the so-called Checkpoint Danny Boy on the battlefield to the courtroom. Brian and Phil’s legal and moral fight becomes the subject of one of Britain’s biggest ever public inquests, known as the Al-Sweady Inquiry.

After years of investigation following Brian’s time in the field, Danny Boy will see the troubled soldier begin to crumble under pressure.

How long is Danny Boy? 

Danny Boy is a 90-minute feature film.

Is there a trailer? 

Yes there is! The trailer makes Danny Boy look like a really tense affair! Toby Jones' Phil Shiner is desperate to close the case against Brian Wood, and looks set to push his team as hard as possible to catch their man. 

Tensions are set to rise, and Brian looks like he's going to be put through the wringer, with more than a few fraught conversations with his family on the horizon!

Did Brian really do something wrong whilst he was deployed in Iraq? Will Phil Shiner bring him to justice? You'll have to watch to find out!

What happened in Danny Boy?

Danny Boy told the true story of former Colour Sergeant Brian Wood. After being issued with the Military Cross for leading a bayonet charge during the Battle of Danny Boy, Brian Wood is questioned by Military Police over his involvement in the mistreatment and potentially unlawful killing of Iraqi citizens.

Later, we’re introduced to Phil Shiner, a hyper-determined human rights lawyer. He’s tipped off by a journalist to the Danny Boy attack. Phil has already expressed his dislike of the British army to some potential lawyers and he takes to the case with gusto.

Brian was already struggling with his past. He hadn't opened up to his wife about what happened during the Battle of Danny Boy, and his problems start bubbling over now he's under investigation. His military history begins to test Brian's relationships with his family and his son starts being bullied by school kids who label his father a murderer. 

Regular flashbacks to the situation in Iraq reveal more of what happened that fateful day as the film continues. Eventually, we get Brian’s full account of the ambush at Checkpoint Danny Boy (narrated by Brian himself as he read over his statement before the inquiry).

Meanwhile, Phil Shiner busies himself with acquiring evidence for the case. He meets with surviving witnesses in Istanbul, who maintain they were farmers and were unarmed on the day of the ambush, and alleges at a press conference that the soldiers tortured and killed their Iraqi captives. He then publicly calls on the UK government to establish an inquiry into the military operation.

During the Al-Sweady Inquiry, a crucial new piece of evidence comes to light. A local warlord’s list of operatives is found by one of Phil’s employees, and the list names every dead Iraqi as being part of the warlord’s militia. This completely undermines the case against the British army, and it appears that Phil ignored or did not even look for this piece of evidence whilst building his case.

In the epilogue, we learn that the judge found that British soldiers had mistreated some Iraqi detainees and made some recommendations on the preservation of evidence and the treatment of prisoners, but cleared all British soldiers of the allegations of torture and unlawful killing. He called these allegations "wholly without foundation."

We also learn that Phil Shiner was struck off in 2017 after a disciplinary tribunal into his work during the inquiry found evidence of errors and misconduct. Finally, we’re told that Brian left the army after successfully clearing his name.

Martin Shore
Staff Writer at WhatToWatch.com

Martin was a Staff Writer with WhatToWatch.com, where he produced a variety of articles focused on the latest and greatest films and TV shows. Now he works for our sister site Tom's Guide in the same role.

Some of his favorite shows are What We Do In The Shadows, Bridgerton, Gangs of London, The Witcher, Doctor Who, and Ghosts. When he’s not watching TV or at the movies, Martin’s probably still in front of a screen playing the latest video games, reading, or watching the NFL.