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Who Dares Wins


‘…a quick swatch at the Boy’s Own fantasy of Who Dares Wins would stir bloodlust in even the most lily-livered, church-loving, arts-affiliated liberal…’

After reading some online comments yesterday about my politics, I felt this would be a good time to exhume this review of this low-budget British thriller that somehow cracked the annual top ten movies at the UK box office. Ian 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’s thriller caught a rare jingo-istic wave of enthusiasm back in the day, and whatever one makes of the film’s political stance, which is somewhere between quite right-wing to rabidly right-wing, Who Dares Wins was and still is a fun 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 subject of SAS, the Special Air Service that were brought in to sort out the embassy stand-off live on tv. And yes, 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 rando baddies 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 come as a 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 commie-leaning 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 somehow 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, or 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 a good twenty years earlier.

Any film that kicks off with a cross-bow through a throat sets out an alarmist stall, and Who Dares Wins also has a pungent, transgressive narrative, which sees Skellern seducing a CND activist Frankie (Judy Davis). Undercover investigators sleeping with suspects is a still hot-button topic today, yet the subject is covered with little thought here; casually bedding Frankie is all part of Skellern’s macho humble-brag. Frankie is so impressed with Skellern that she brings him along as a date when she and 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 today’s UK governments would probably require little 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. 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 a dash of personally-motivated torture. Others caught up in the melee include top cop Edward Woodward, wine expert Oz Clarke, Anna Ford reading the news and a final scene involving Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Paul Freeman; a quick swatch at the Boy’s Own fantasy of Who Dares Wins would stir bloodlust in even the most lily-livered, church-loving, arts-affiliated liberal. To quote Dirty Harry, there’s ‘nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot’, and Who Dares Wins simplifies geo-politics into a playground game that any kid would enjoy winning…


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  1. Knocked Entebbe into a cocked hat – or any other kind of hat in case other kinds of hats take offence. We watched this live on television for free then went out and paid good money to see it on the screen and you say the public can’t be fooled. Top stuff and should not be watched by the easily offended.

    • I’m easily offended by anyone not digging this movie. You don’t have to believe the politics, it’s just a good yarn and presents a torn from the headlines story with the exciting bits turned up for 11. Great Budd theme too.

  2. Who Dares Wins! What a motto to have. I loved this movie as a kid. I remember buying one of those monthly war magazines because it had a big feature on the SAS and the Iranian Embassy siege. I think it was the all black outfit with the gas mask that appealed to me. I can see where my ninja fascination began! Great review.

    • Remember the actual siege on tv on a bank holiday Monday, so a film about it seemed natural. They looked like pros, and while the rabid simplifications of the story may offend anyone who wants to take it literally, it’ll always be cool to me.

  3. Hm, I thought I recognized the title, but your review of the plot elements (aside from the embassy-siege and the SAS kicking the windows in) doesn’t sound familiar. Also: Richard Widmark again?

    • I guess there have been other SAS films, and other Lewis Collins films, but this is your one stop shop for Collins SAS action. Widmark turns up in all kinds of places, and adds some gravitas here…

  4. “lily-livered, church-loving, arts-affiliated liberal

    I know there’s a difference between the meaning of the word liberal as used in the UK and in America, but here in America most liberals hate church.

    I’m surprised at just how passionate your review here is. Almost like you’re a closet (american) conservative who just can’t bring himself to admit those feelings deep down inside. But don’t worry Eddie, we’re your friends anyway.

    So ol’ Charlie wants to nuke Scotland? Did you guys moon him or something? Or was it one of those “you get our second best bedroom” kind of snub that set him off?

    • Sigh. There’s not much love between England and Scotland, and that’s a fact.

      This is a good film. I’m not suggesting that this film depicts a political reality that I believe is real, just that its a good movie to watch and captures something of the way people saw things at the time…

      So I prefer to keep my politics to myself. Never voted Republican or Democrat. No fan of war, fascism or real-world violence, and fortunately that seems to be a vague enough stance to avoid getting into too much conflict…churchgoers tend to be seen as liberal with a small l here, but everyone has the right to believe what they want, as long as they’re not hurting or damaging anyone else IMHO…

  5. I remember this film mainly for Lewis Collins’ transformation – ie, how he lost the pudding basin haircut and toned up for the role.* Until then he’d basically been Tubbs to Shaw’s Crocker.

    although the ‘new’ hairstyle looks pretty naff by today’s standards.

    • Well, back in 1982, Collins was certainly a big deal; we used to play The Professionals in the playground when I was a kid, and being Bodie was always best. There’s an episode where Bodie and Doyle smash up a resturant until they get some information that always struck me as the series’ strongest suit; getting things done by any means required. But even with a better haircut, there’s few markets in the UK where you could get away with a white raincoat ensemble..

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