Danny Boy’s Toby Jones talks ‘ignoring peoples’ comments’ to find true character in drama

Danny Boy: BBC teases new war drama film

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Anthony Boyle plays the real-life soldier Brian Wood, accused of war crimes in Iraq by the tenacious human rights lawyer Phil Shiner (played by Toby Jones). BBC’s Danny Boy details one of Britain’s biggest ever public inquiries which followed, the Al-Sweady Inquiry. Toby Jones spoke to Express.co.uk and other publications to discuss taking on the role and ignoring what has been written in order to get inside the head of the true character of Shiner.

When asked about how challenging it was to get to grips with Phil Shiner’s character when so much has been written about him, Toby, who has starred in Harry Potter, Jurassic World and The Hunger Games, explained that he avoided reading about Phil.

“Part of that is trying to ignore other people’s comments about you,” he said.

“You’re looking at behaviour and you’re trying to find behaviour but it’s based on choices that the drama presents to you and in a way that distinction between the drama and real-life is kind of what I’ve had to do before in parts.

“You know, you’re not playing a real person, you’re playing a dramatist’s view of a real person.

“And in that sense. How did I approach it? I suppose you try and withhold judgement, you try and look for space in the character to show as much of him as you can.”

He added: “There’s a moment in the drama where the character goes for a run, you just see him running, and things like that are incredibly useful when you’re making a character because they just give you an opportunity.

“This is a white-collar character, somebody who’s existing in the energy and in the business of an office and seeing them in different contexts becomes disproportionately important compared to how little time you see him actually running.

“But to me, this felt very important because there was something about his doggedness, just his relentlessness that you might be able to suggest with running.”

Detailing the story, writer Robert Jones explained: “Aged 24, Brian Wood took part in a fierce engagement in Iraq north of Basra, named after a nearby checkpoint – the Battle of Danny Boy.

“The action was celebrated as a great example of bravery under fire, but later became the focus of disturbing allegations.”

Awarded the Military Cross for valour, Brian found himself caught up in a ten-year fight against the accusation that he was a war criminal.

“At its heart, Danny Boy is a very personal tale of courage, character and the intricacy of conscience.

“As a writer, I was drawn to this but fascinated also by the way it leads us on to wider questions too. How does a society balance the demands of soldiering with those of human rights? Are we asking individual soldiers to embrace and embody that balance?”

Toby’s character had to encompass one side of the argument while portraying the true person behind the news story.

“I don’t know Phil Shiner,” Toby added. “But in the drama he seems more dramatically interesting than just seeing someone spout legal argument.

“And that’s my job really to humanise – to build on what Roberts has done and to try and humanise and make the choices that they make.

“The audience can make the choice on whether those choices are right or wrong.

“I don’t have to have an opinion on all of that, I just have to try them as clearly as I can.”

Robert talked about the way in which the story is told in the one-off, 90-minute episode and the way in which that can be effective.

“I was thinking about the way that the drama differs from news or documentary,” he said.

“And I think that that distance helps a lot. I think what I wanted to do in writing the script was to acknowledge the humanity of those on both sides.

“If you want to look at it as an argument, there are both sides of the argument and in fact both sides of the conflict in Iraq as well. “Whereas when I think, in the heat of (the) argument, either in the conflict or in the inquiry, there’s a very distinct dynamic of winning and losing.

“And I think about Brian and think about Phil Shiner. If you look at them in a slightly more global sense, as sort of aspects of the way we like to look at ourselves as a country, I think we have to revere both.”

Danny Boys airs at 9pm on Wednesday BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.

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