28 May 2018
Strike Back, S1-4: Armed in Africa
There’s only one thing better than a really good spy-action-army series and that’s one that’s got a South African element. Like US-British series Strike Back (2010-current; Seasons 1-4 can now be found on Showmax), which not only features Mzansi in the storylines, it also features SA in the production phase. The show is based on the Strike Back novels by former Special Air Service soldier Chris Ryan, which follows British secret “armed response team” Section 20. These agents go into the worst of the worst situations and stop the bad guys from doing, well, bad-guy stuff. And seeing local scenery makes it way more interesting for viewers when terrorists are blown to smithereens onscreen.
It takes a team
Series producer Bill Shephard says that “South Africa has great scenery and skilled crew. That’s what makes it such an attractive option to shoot over here”. It’s not just pretty locations that make SA fun for the cast and crew though, explains lead star Philip Winchester, who takes on the role of ex-British Special Forces soldier Michael Stonebridge: “We get to do a lot of amazing stunts here in South Africa that we may not have been able to do elsewhere, like shooting shotguns [in crowds] and handbrake turns for car chase scenes around Cape Town.”
Locations in SA were actually used by the show right from episode 1 but it was kept under wraps. They did, however, make sure that the local economy benefited from their work, not just behind the scenes, explains Bill: “We hired people from Langa [Cape Town township] and hired buildings and facilities, cast and crew.”
Hello there, sunny SA
While Seasons 1 and 2 (called Strike Back and Project Dawn) weren’t set in South Africa but rather just filmed locally, Seasons 3 and 4 (titled Vengeance and Shadow Warfare) feature the country in storylines too. Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones, 2011-current; all seven seasons to date are available on Showmax) calls South Africa home as undercover arms warlord Conrad Knox who isn’t just stockpiling a possible nuclear arsenal, he’s arming militia across the continent.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Conrad is cornered in downtown Jo’burg in the Season 3 finale though – it was filmed almost entirely in Cape Town for the close-ups, with establishing shots taken in Jo’burg with minimal cast and crew during late 2012-early 2013.
Season 4 starts in SA and while the action moves overseas quickly as Stonebridge and his crew go on the terrorist hunt, the Strike Back production team lengthened their stay on the African continent. It turns out that Cape Town and other areas in the Western Cape bear a striking resemblance to Beirut and Colombia, where the characters get down to business for episodes 1 through 4. And one of the actors wasn’t complaining about the harsh African sun – Rhona Mitra (Major Rachel Dalton in the show) says that “shooting in Cape Town is one of the most incredible places to film. The [South African] crew was the best you will ever work with, which is what you need for something like this”.
As for the Columbian jungle scenes, those were filmed in KwaZulu-Natal before the team moved production to Europe in March 2013. In previous seasons, SA also stood in for India, Malaysia, Pakistan and The Sudan.
Eagle-eyed fans on the SA Gamer website spotted these SA locations in the show…
- The safe houses used in Seasons 3 and 4 are these Cape Town mansions.
- Langa doubles for the war-torn region of Bukhoma.
- The tavern was, well, still a tavern (although it looks different now…)