It was the other Iranian Hostage Crisis. While the prolonged captivity of American embassy personnel in Tehran made Jimmy Carter look weak and incompetent, the siege of the Iranian embassy in South Kensington, London made it clear to the world Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a strong leader, who was not to be trifled with. However, the SAS (Special Air Service) commandos did not storm the embassy immediately. For five days, DCI Max Vernon did his best to keep the terrorists talking. The British response to the hostage-taking is dramatized day-by-day in Toa Fraser’s 6 Days (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
To this day, Western authorities are still rather baffled why Arabic-speaking Khuzestan separatists launched their operation on British soil. Although they maintained diplomatic relations, the UK and Iran were not on friendly terms. Yet, Arabistan Liberation gunmen expected the Brits to convince Iran to release their imprisoned comrades. They also demanded safe passage, which the Thatcher government refused to grant. That did not leave DCI Vernon much room to negotiate. However, he maintained a dialogue with his terrorist counterpart and even managed to secure a handful of hostage releases, as a sign of “good faith.”
While Vernon was talking, Rusty Firmin and the SAS were formulating attack plans. Glenn Standring’s screenplay does its best to suggest Thatcher placed undue restrictions on the operation, out of concern for how it would play in the media. However, it is hard to argue with the results. Despite some strongly worded statements, Thatcher’s decisiveness clearly made an impression on Iran.
The South Kensington hostage rescue is a fascinating and highly instructive episode in fairly recent history, whose significance has never really been fully appreciated on our shores. Fraser effectively shows the action from the perspectives of both the cops and the SAS, but attempts to include the standpoints of the media are far less compelling. After all, they are just along for the ride. 6 Days is a radical departure from Fraser’s last film, the very cool Maori martial arts fantasy, The Dead Lands, but his execution is lean and pacey. Throughout the film, he concretely establishes the military, political, and humanitarian stakes at play in the stand-off.
As Vernon, Mark Strong is as intense as always. Likewise, Jamie Bell looks young, but he has an appropriately steely presence as Firmin. Abbie Cornish doesn’t really bring much to the party, but to be fair, she is only playing journalist Kate Adie. One could also argue Tim Pigott-Smith is excessively pompous and high-handed as Home Secretary William Whitelaw, who was an unusually sure-footed politician throughout his long career in public service.