What better film to watch on Brexit day, or indeed any other day, than Ian Sharp’s Who Dares Wins? A low-budget British thriller that somehow cracked the annual top ten movies at the box office, Sharp’s film did Dunkirk numbers back in 1982, and yet is unknown in most territories world-wide, even under an alternative title, The Final Option. Producer Euan Lloyd noted that it had become unfashionable to fly the flag by the early eighties, but Who Dares Wins caught the kind of rare jingo-istic wave of enthusiasm that a muddled retreat via Brexit has failed to engender. Whatever ones makes of the film’s politics, which range from quite right-wing to rabidly right-wing, Who Dares Wins was and still is a British movie worth getting nostalgic about.
Of course, it’s not for everyone. As a kid, I was mystified by Leonard Maltin’s tv guide and his one-star reviews of Clint Eastwood films; the author wasn’t a fan of the star’s politics, and therefore was churlish about such robust crowd-pleasers as Magnum Force. To this critic, cinema is a broad church, and many opinions can be housed within four-walls; we’re reviewing films, not the political views of the makers. Most action films are fantasy, right or left wing is just the flavour you choose. Lloyd made all kinds of blood-and-bullets action movies, notably 1978’s The Wild Geese, but the siege of the Iranian Embassy in 1980 inspired him to tackle the SAS, the Special Air Service that successfully liberated the embassy. The SAS play themselves in the brief, exciting action scenes that climax the film after a long, slow burn.
Of course, it wasn’t enough just to kick the asses of some random foreigners on-screen. Lloyd ramped things up by casting around for his villains; not only are they foreign terrorists, but they’re in league with the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and other beardie-weirdy liberals, and they enjoy something called ‘the arts’, so there’s simply no redeeming these people and death can only be a relief. A surprisingly large part of the film features arty-farty performance-musical critiques of American foreign policy, including a live-set by musicians identified only as Metamorphosis, the kind of avant-garde band who use their brand of incendiery rock to warm up for a sermon from a bishop from the Church of England (Kenneth Griffith) who is, in turn, interrupted by unruly skin-heads out to create a riot.
Truly, the unholy stew of Britian in the eighties is a pestilent place, but there’s one man to sort this mess out, and what a man he is. Peter Skellern was the name of a rather old-fashioned British crooner of sincere power-ballads, but it’s also the name of the SAS captain played by Lewis Collins in this film and he’s the epitome of colour-supplement cool. Swaggering through street-markets in a black polo neck and pure white raincoat, affecting quilted blouson jackets; there’s no end to the sartorial style offered by Collins, who was already a household name due to his work on ITV espionage series The Professionals. Re-united with director Sharp from that show, Collins was clearly auditioning for James Bond here, and got his audition, only to fall out with the producers at the final hurdle. If the Bond movies had doubled-down on seriousness post-Moonraker, Collins would have been a strong Bond in the Daniel Craig mode, but twenty years earlier.
Any film that opens with a cross-bow through a throat sets out a stall, and Who Dares Wins also has a pungent, transgressive narrative, which sees Skellern seducing a CND activist Frankie (Judy Davis). Frankie is also a terrorist sympathiser because, in Lloyd’s book, they’re pretty much the same thing. Undercover investigators sleeping with suspects is a hot-button topic today, and it’s interesting to see the subject covered with so little thought here; casually bedding Frankie is all part of Skellern’s macho humble-brag. Frankie is so impressed with Skellern that she somehow brings him along as a support animal when her pals take over the US Embassy, taking hostages including imported US stars Richard Widmark and Robert Webber. Their plan is to blackmail the UK government into firing a nuclear weapon at Scotland, something that most UK governments would not require much persuasion to do. Of course, the cavalry arrive in the form of the SAS who chopper their way in, blow the corners off the doors and sort it all out in time for scones and tea. As one character notes; ‘When the SAS is called upon to do what we’re trained to do, we have been likened to a surgeon cutting out a cancer. It’s a filthy and difficult job. We don’t like doing it, but it’s our duty…’
There’s tonnes of non-PC content here, from Hammer Horror star Ingrid Pitt’s Helga, a thin-lipped trainer of the bad guys to Skellern’s mountain-range yomping expidition that seems like a thin justification for personally-motivated torture. Randoms caught up in the melee include top cop Edward Woodward, wine expect Oz Clarke, Anna Ford reading the news and a final scene involving Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Paul Freeman; a quick look at the fantasy of Who Dares Wins would stir the patriot in even the most lily-livered, church-loving, arts-affiliated liberal.