In April 1980, armed gunmen infiltrate the Iranian Embassy in London. What followed would not only set the template for the British response to terrorist threats, but saw unprecedented live news coverage never before seen in Britain. On a Bank Holiday weekend where the most anticipated viewing on television was the snooker finals, a heart-stopping, ongoing commentary was brought into the homes of 18 to 20 million people, live and on the scene. This is the premise of 6 Days, Toa Fraser’s tense and exciting film, now showing as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.
Toa Fraser has not one, but two films screening at NZIFF this year- as well as 6 Days, cinephiles have been treated to the extreme-sports documentary The Free Man; proof positive of Fraser’s flexibility and adaptability as a filmmaker. Interestingly, it’s a skill that lends itself to 6 Days: while 6 Days is a cinematic account of the Iranian Embassy siege, it has been meticulously researched and re-created. Christchurch viewers at the August 10th screening were also treated to a Q&A with Kate Adie, the BBC journalist portrayed by Abbie Cornish in the film. Kate noted that “there [was] no thought in this film to…romanticize…the actual action”.
It’s apparent from the film’s structure that this is less a fictional adaptation of events and more an attempt to bring the events to the big screen with accuracy, to document in cinematic form what had played out over the 6 days of the siege. In fact, Rusty Firman (played by Jamie Bell in the film) was an advisor during production, and with a no-nonsense SAS man advising you, it’s pretty safe to say there was no fluff or extraneous detail.
Fraser doesn’t pay lip service to a slow build or character development: what you see is basically what you get – the first scene in the film is the terrorists gaining entry to the Iranian Embassy. The consequence of this is that you have (both in the film and the actual event itself in real life) various groups involved, poised on the brink of action. One move makes the house of cards topple, but who will make the move…and what will the consequences be?
As Kate Adie said at the Q&A: “it was an enormous tension [for] everybody involved: the gunmen, the police, the army and indeed the media; because what do you do when you are faced with very determined acts which are against the law but which also threaten innocent lives at the same time? It’s something which we have tackled time and again, sadly, and is very prevalent today. And the action that was taken (and it does reflect it absolutely on the screen), the very determined action, and particularly the role of the SAS and the way they carry it out which is single-minded, very very intensely brave and it was ultimate force and that has been the case ever since.”
Narratively, 6 Days is remarkably similar to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk – you are witnessing various strands woven together around a main event. In the case of 6 Days it’s the police (mostly centred around Mark Strong’s incredible performance as Max), the bureaucracy trying to handle the political fallout, the SAS (with Jamie Bell’s Rusty at the forefront), and the media (Abbie Cornish as Kate Adie, and her cameraman played by Martin Hancock). The tension is ramped up at pivotal points, including the moments where the SAS are primed and prepped to storm, their gas masks on, breathing heavy, surrounded in an eerie green light. When the action finally happens, it’s almost like a blessed release. Fraser (with Glen Standring as screenwriter) has crafted the tension with precision. 6 Days cannot be criticised for needing edits- no scene is unnecessary.
For New Zealand audiences, there is a heavy Kiwi contingent- you will definitely see some familiar faces (like Jared Turner, Te Kohe Tuhaka, and Calum Gittins, just to name a few), but international audiences possibly won’t make these connections. For British audiences, there will be a different kind of connection and resonance, especially as the siege was an iconic breaking news event in the 1980s. As Katie Adie said during her Q&A: “it would be fascinating for me to sit in a cinema or two and watch the reaction of audiences in the UK. This is very much part of recent history, and there’s hardly anybody…who doesn’t know about it. It was an extraordinary, iconic moment and it would be interesting to see how British audiences react to it.”
The performances are exceptionally solid. Mark Strong has a track record of being quite the presence in his films (he tends to be so compelling I would actually pay to see him read the phone book or a shopping list), but as Max, a detective inspector who forms an unexpected rapport with terrorist Selim, he has raised the bar. There are moments of deep compassion fused with sorrow at the state of events, and more than a few scenes where you’re likely to get a lump in your throat.
Abbie Cornish’s recreation of Kate Adie is also remarkable – though Abbie and Kate never met prior to filming, it’s obvious that Cornish has painstakingly done her research, and in fact her cadence and tone during the scenes where she is reporting live to camera are strikingly accurate. Jamie Bell’s Rusty is like a viper, poised to strike. Every muscle and every cell is primed to take down the terrorists, and Bell exudes this (no doubt with great instruction from the real Rusty).
If you like your cinematic viewings expansive, long-winded and fluffy…this is not for you. However, if you like tense, intelligent and heart-pounding drama grounded in reality, this is one not to be missed.
Lynnaire MacDonald, Publicist and Founder, Film Sprites PR