OUT 4 AUGUST CERT 15 / 94 MINS
DIRECTOR Toa Fraser CAST Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Abbie Cornish, Martin Shaw, Tim Pigott-smith
PLOT South Kensington, 30 April 1980. The Iranian Embassy is under siege by armed militants. The UK government launches Operation Nimrod, led by the SAS’ Rusty Firmin (Bell).
WATCHED LIVE BY millions in the spring of 1980, the Iranian Embassy siege played out like a real-life thriller — an event so inherently cinematic it’s a surprise it’s taken 37 years to boom onto the big screen. The siege could be told from any number of viewpoints: the SAS, the terrorists, the negotiators, the hostages, Whitehall or the media. So which story do you tell? 6 Days’ answer is all of them. Here’s a film so vigilantly researched that it’s obliged to cover every angle and, as a consequence, loses sight of what’s so compelling — the SAS raid itself.
After a brisk, ominous prologue depicting a country shivering in the midst of a “terrorism renaissance” (6 Days is nothing if not timely), Toa Fraser’s film storms into the event with alarming economy. The Democratic Revolutionary Front simply march up to the Embassy, burst through the doors, chain-lock the entrance and issue an ultimatum: release 91 Arabs imprisoned in Iran or they start killing the 26 captives. Like all hostage thrillers, 6 Days pivots on a precarious but simple dramatic dilemma — do you resolve the crisis through diplomacy or force? Wedged between Tim Pigott-smith’s truculent home secretary and Ben Turner’s erratic terrorist, Mark Strong’s Met negotiator is a middleman pincered by impossible pressures. As the tension ratchets up, every ring of the telephone begins to sound like a death-knell.
Still, the most compelling character here, by some stretch, is Jamie Bell’s lance corporal, Rusty Firmin — the mastermind behind the insanely perilous abseil assault. Taking a less-is-more approach, Bell’s terse, inscrutable performance deserves to go down as the most believable depiction of an SAS warrior committed to film — a ball of coiled violence who isn’t so much heroic as coolly pragmatic. The film jumps to attention every time he appears.
Trouble is, there’s not nearly enough of him and too much of Abbie Cornish’s off-key take of BBC reporter Kate Adie. Since 6 Days already intersperses events with archival news reports, you wonder what Cornish’s dramatic purpose is other than to supply a running commentary in a sing-songy, affected accent. Notice a theme forming here? There are too many characters crammed into the pressure cooker. What should be a streamlined countdown thriller gets clogged up by multiple narratives and pace draining focus-switches. Maybe this would’ve been less noticeable if 6 Days were unified by the urgent handheld style of Paul Greengrass, which a recreation like this seems to be crying out for, but Fraser’s approach never really settles, and nor does his colour-palette: there are cobalt blues, stark daylight, seafoam greens, cinnamon browns, even, at one point, the Sunny Delight orange favoured by Michael Bay. Colour plays such an insidious emotional effect on a film’s atmosphere, but 6 Days can’t quite decide on its own look, or mood.
What’s endlessly striking is the veracity of the staging, and the film does rally in its pulsing final third — but even that has its issues. As the gas-masked marines strike like a troop of Darth Vaders, the explosive fury of the SAS raid thunders with a real-time rush... only for Fraser to cut to Cornish reporting outside, or Strong’s bafflingly superfluous wife watching events on the TV. Why sabotage the momentum? If ever a film’s suffered from St Hubbins Syndrome, this is it — there’s too much perspective.
VERDICT A solid account of exceptional events, hobbled by choppy pacing and a bottleneck of characters. Still, the explosive crescendo delivers, and Bell is cracking as 6 Days’ taciturn SAS warrior.