It’s hard to take stock of the fact that SAS crack-squad leader was actually, not so long ago, Billy Elliott! Not that I saw the film, but I guess everyone has to start somewhere. Jamie Bell is the man and he, alongside fellow Brit and the main player really, Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Imitation Game, Zero Dark Thirty) pull off a reasonable film here.
It’s almost a docu-drama but not quite, depicting the events surrounding the Iranian Embassy hostage siege in London in 1980. It really helps to have the historical context by having been alive and adult at the time, thereby remembering the event for real. It seems to have been made with money from a New Zealand film company, so I’m not sure what that’s about. I guess we’re globalised and firms can do what they like!
Strong outshines everyone else around him, troubled by the events whilst maintaining a diplomatic role as the story’s negotiator. A lot of the time the camera focuses on him, deep in thought, wrenched by the often moral dilemma he was facing, trying so hard to prevent a bloodbath. He is very convincing and worth the ticket price.
How much of it, on a micro level, is true of course, is open to debate. I often think this about films based on a true story. How can the filmmakers possibly know what was said between people in private - and even if there are records, how things were said and what emotions portrayed. But I guess that’s filmmaking and the difference between ‘based on a true story’ and the absolute truth of every detail.
The film is an edge-of-the-seat thriller a lot of the time, even for those who know the outcome. The tension builds nicely during the SAS team’s downtime and politics/negotiation takes over. The suspense amongst the hostages inside is played out convincingly and where there are grizzly scenes, they are harrowing and no doubt, to some, shocking. The task execution and mistakes made by the squad involved were handled sympathetically and a human side shown of the Iranian team’s leader.
I found myself enjoying the thrills and spills, though of course feeling for the people involved in the real incident and the impact that it must have had on their lives. Not just the hostages, but everyone. The film really could have done without so much focus on the media circus and the fairly poorly depicted Kate Adie by Abbie Cornish, spoiling her fairly decent track record slightly.
There’s some decent thought gone into sets and photography, use of a mix of actual footage and re-enactment and the direction is held well together by, I think it’s fair to say, the not-so-well-known Toa Fraser. I would recommend it. It’s not the best made film in the world, but it’s certainly worth a look, particularly for those old enough to have seen it for their own eyes. It's on Netflix UK just now.
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