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D: Toa Fraser / 94m

Cast: Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Abbie Cornish, Martin Shaw, Ben Turner, Emun Elliott, Aymen Hamdouchi, Andrew Grainger, Colin Garlick, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Tim Pigott-Smith

Between 30 April and 5 May 1980, the Iranian Embassy in London came under siege from six armed men whose aim was to secure the release of ninety-one Arab prisoners being held in Iran. Taking twenty-six hostages, they also demanded safe passage out of the United Kingdom once their goal was achieved. Of course, the outcome was very much different from what they were hoping for. Following the killing of one of the hostages, the order was given to send in the SAS. On the evening of the sixth day of the siege, they stormed the building and in the ensuing seventeen minutes killed five of the six armed men, rescued all but one of the remaining hostages (five had been released over the previous days), and gave notice to the world that the UK would not tolerate terrorism on any level.

What 6 Days does is to cover that dramatic period from a variety of angles in an effort to provide the viewer with a comprehensive overview of what was going on at the time both inside the embassy and outside it. So we see the six members of the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA), led by Salim (Turner), as they try to control the situation from an ever decreasing state of authority, as well as the Metropolitan Police’s chief negotiator, Max Vernon (Strong), as he does his best to keep things from escalating out of control. We also see the SAS teams that would eventually end the siege gathering intelligence on how best to enter the building, BBC reporter Kate Adie (Cornish) establish her reputation as a serious news journalist, and the political manoeuvring that went on behind the scenes involving the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw (Pigott-Smith), and the various decision makers who would debate and interpret the government’s policy of non-compliance in terrorist matters.

With such an intense, dramatic situation, and one whose violent conclusion was played out – deliberately – in front of a number of assembled news cameras, you might expect 6 Days to be as equally intense and dramatic, but sadly, whatever tension is achieved is arrived at accidentally. Glenn Standring’s screenplay, adapted from the awkwardly titled Go! Go! Go!: The SAS. The Iranian Embassy Siege. The True Story (2011) by Rusty Firmin and Will Pearson, alternates between each angle with an initial promise that soon falls away to offer routine exchanges between all concerned, a worrying number of occasions where we see the SAS fail in their preparations, Cornish’s role as Kate Adie built up so that her billing is made more credible, and negotiations between Vernon and Salim that consist of Vernon reassuring Salim that he wants to help, while Salim insists that he’ll kill a hostage if his demands aren’t met – over and over. (If there was ever any intention of exploring the psychological aspects of hostage negotiation, they certainly didn’t make it into the final script.)

There are other problems, some that relate to the movie’s pacing, and others that relate to director Toa Fraser’s handling of the material. Fraser made the enjoyably quirky Dean Spanley (2008), but here the confidence he showed with that movie appears to have deserted him. With an array of characters and situations to be exploited, Fraser leaves many scenes high and dry in terms of their potential effectiveness, opting for a flatness of tone that proves wearying the more it happens. As a result, he often leaves his talented cast looking as if they’ve been cast adrift from the narrative and are wondering where the lifeboats are. Bell, as the same Rusty Firmin whose book this is based on, can’t quite convince as a lance corporal in the SAS, and he’s too bland a character to make much of an impact. Cornish is kept on standby until the siege is broken, which is the point at which Adie came into her own and sealed her journalistic reputation by reporting events as they happened (though the movie has her standing heroically out in the open, whereas in reality Adie wisely hid behind a car door). Cornish also attempts a vocal interpretation of Adie that is off-putting to say the least.

But if you have to spare a thought for anyone in the movie it’s Mark Strong, a fine actor with an impressive range, but here reduced to staring continually in anguished sincerity while his character tries to keep things from going very wrong very quickly. In comparison with much of the rest of the movie, he’s one of the best things in it, but he’s hamstrung by the demands of the script and his director’s inability to make each scene anything more than flat and undemanding. This inattention leads to the movie having an equally flat and undemanding tone that negates any sense of urgency about the siege and the political machinations surrounding it. It’s not until the SAS storm the building that the movie wakes up and remembers it’s as much a thriller as a political drama, but even then there’s a great deal of confusion as to what’s happening where and, in the case of the SAS themselves, to whom.

Again, there are pacing issues as well, and too much repetition to make 6 Days anything other than a pedestrian representation of an event that made international headlines and kept a nation glued to their televisions and radios throughout its duration. There are flashes of humour that are largely muted (though a comment from an embassy staff member to Firmin is priceless by itself), the odd attempt at post-ironic commentary, contemporary footage that sits side by side with the movie’s recreations of the same images, and an eerily effective opening shot that sees the six terrorists passing by the Royal Albert Hall, but they’re not enough on their own to make the movie more engaging or gripping. There’s a great deal of earnestness and melodramatic sincerity on display, but it’s all in service to a script that feels as if it’s trying to tell its story at a remove from the actual events, and which compresses those fateful six days into an hour and a half and still finds the need to pad out the narrative with unnecessary detours and longueurs.

Rating: 4/10 – muddled and far from absorbing, 6 Days is an undemanding viewing experience that doesn’t try too hard to make its true story anything other than perfunctory and banal; by the time the SAS storm the embassy you’ll be thinking “at last” – not because the movie is finally going to be halfway exciting, but because it means the movie is close to being over.