EXCLUSIVE: Former SAS soldier turned filmmaker Tom Petch (The Patrol) is lining up a film about British-Fijian soldier Talaiasi ‘Laba’ Labalaba, who died at the Battle of Mirbat in Oman in 1972 after holding off hundreds of insurgents for hours.
Attached to the film are Marco Polo and Alien: Covenant actor Uli Latukefu as ‘Laba’, Lasarus Ratuere (Ghost In The Shell), Tom Brittney (Grantchester) and Michael Maloney (The Trial Of Christine Keeler), who will play former Brit Prime Minister Edward Heath, a character he recently played in Netflix’s The Crown.
Latukefu recently wrapped on Taika Waiti’s soccer comedy Next Goal Wins with Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss.
Labalaba was part of a team of nine SAS soldiers based outside Mirbat. They were part of a secret military operation with a duty to protect the Sultan of Oman from a group of Marxist guerrillas. One day before they were due to go home, the group were attacked. Knowing the unit was hopelessly outnumbered, Labalaba ran hundreds of yards under fire to reach a 25-pounder artillery gun which is usually operated by four to six men. He held out for two and a half hours against hundreds of fighters, repelling wave after wave of attacks. He was shot in the jaw and eventually died when a bullet passed through his neck.
Labalaba is well known in Fiji and in military circles but to this day remains little known among the general public. Calls have long been made for him to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle unveiled a statue dedicated to the fallen soldier in 2018.
Petch and producer Saba Kia are producing for UK outfit Dark Wave Film. The duo were recently at the EFM in Berlin to discuss the £5M-budgeted project with financiers and the movie is known to be generating interest. Script comes from former soldier Alistair Martin.
The team is aiming to shoot in Wales and Morocco later this year. Casting director Kate Ringsell (Justice League) is also attached.
“When the attack started, Laba ran to man a huge artillery gun which normally takes multiple men to handle. He fired it for hours and ultimately died holding off the insurgents. It’s no exaggeration to say that his heroic and remarkable act of bravery won the battle and played a key role in winning the Omani Civil War,” Petch told us.
“War movies we see in the west are so often about one type of soldier,” he continued. “There are so many lives and stories that haven’t been recognized. For example, millions of soldiers and labourers from across the Empire and Commonwealth served alongside the British Army in the First World War. Those stories are not often seen on screen. Laba’s is another story that hasn’t been heard enough.”
“The script has had a lot of great feedback. We believe strongly in staying faithful to the characters and we think this is a very current story,” added Kia, a former assistant locations manager on movies including Annihilation, Peter Rabbit and Transformers: The Last Knight.
Petch served for eight years in the British Army, including tours of Bosnia and Cambodia, leaving the services in 1997. While in the SAS years after Labalaba he oversaw the same squadron that fought at Mirbat. In 2000 he founded Salt Film, a UK locations and production company.
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