Producer Euan Lloyd earned himself a name as a producer of mini-epics over the years with such movies as 'The Wild Geese', 'The Sea Wolves', 'Paper Tiger' and 'Shalako'. He lived near the Iranian Embassy in London where, on 30 April 1980, six terrorists over-ran the building and took several hostages. He was at home watching a John Wayne film on TV when the programme suddenly switched to live news coverage of the SAS storming the building to end the siege. Lloyd immediately ran around the corner to watch the action himself. As soon as it ended, he raced back home and called his lawyer to register several movie titles for a possible film on the SAS, one of which was "Who Dares Wins".
While the movie that was released in 1982 was a work of fiction, it was based on historical events and Lloyd wanted it to be a tribute to the anonymous heroes of the SAS.
The film features a superb cast with Lewis Collins as the main character ably supported by a list that reads like a Spotlight directory listing. We have Edward Woodward, Richard Widmark, Judy Davis, Kenneth Griffith, Rosalind Lloyd (nepotism rules), Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Allen, Maurice Roeves and Robert Webber to name but a few. If you don't recognise some of the names, you will know the faces of some great British character actors from the 1980's.
So what's the story then?
SAS officer Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins) is apparently kicked out of the SAS for gross misconduct but goes undercover to infiltrate a group of radical terrorists who aim to take some American dignitaries hostage and make demands of the British government. Basically, that's it. There's nothing wrong with a simple plot if it works and provides the glue to bind together some excellent action set pieces.
The highlight of the movie (the bit we all waited for) just has to be when the helicopters hove into view and the SAS troops storm the Ambassador's residence.
In reality this was the main Admin block of Pinewood Studios, formerly Heatherden Hall, and I can recall jumping (as I was working there at the time) when the explosions went off near the roofline of the building. I also remember how downhearted the groundsman was as his beloved lawn was wrecked by the helicopter skids.
The hostage section of the movie features the studio restaurant, doubling for the Ambassador's dining room. This was a particularly beautiful, oak panelled hall where, at lunchtime, a team of chefs in full uniform complete with tall hats would carve you roast beef from joints that had just that tiniest bit of pink in the centre. Those were the days when it was owned by The Rank Organisation and the sign at the main gate featured the 'man with the gong'. It's owned by Deluxe these days and the sign doesn't look half as friendly. I wonder how the food is now.
'Who Dares Wins' could have helped catapult Lewis Collins to fame as James Bond if he'd played his cards right. Bear in mind that 'Octopussy' was in pre-production at the time with Cubby Broccoli's white Rolls Royce (Cub 1) parked in its reserved spot just outside the main entrance. Collins looked good, eschewing his rough Bodie image from 'The Professionals' and carried out the action scenes almost effortlessly. His acting was good enough. Okay, so maybe not Oscar winning material but good enough for many a leading man and if he'd made it as Bond we'd have had someone closer to the Connery look than the Moore. Maybe one of the things that got in his way was his liking for a pint or two at lunchtime - something that is frowned upon in the acting fraternity, especially when you have dialogue scenes to shoot in the afternoon.
I can recall a neurotic assistant director almost at his wits end as 'our Lewis' downed a few frosties in the bar with a group of journos.
'Who Dares Wins' was directed by TV director Ian Sharp as his first feature film and the style of the movie belies his training ground. It looks as if it could be a feature length episode of 'The Professionals' but there's nothing really wrong with that as they were always tightly scripted and well made. In among the story rollout there are the occasional scenes that make you cringe somewhat, such as the 'rock opera' depicting the horror of nuclear armaments. It just looks a bit silly - and it dates the film terribly.
Also slightly coy is the Peter Skellen 'family man' sub plot with his wife (Rosalind Lloyd) and baby daughter who are kidnapped to act as insurance that he will co-operate fully with the terrorists.
Australian actress Judy Davis turns in a credible performance as the idealistic terrorist and fairly desirable love interest, Frankie Leith.
The music score by Roy Budd, provides a driving rhythmic heartbeat for the movie and the main theme is one of those tunes that continues in a loop inside your head for several days once the film has finished.
The pacing of the film is good, giving the audience enough time to understand what is going on while building the tension at the same time - all leading to the movie's highly anticipated climax. It's also quite exciting as the characters are not part of a 'franchise' so they just might not survive and some of the terrorists are so wide eyed and loony that they're also a bit scary.
All in all this is an entertaining British action picture that beats many of today's offerings into a cocked hat. There's the necessary hint of menace to make it work and to involve the audience. A great cast with an excellent score. In short, a well made movie.
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