Saturday, 8 October 2016
Who Dares Wins
A parochial alternative to Roger Moore's doughy 007 run, Who Dares Wins takes the television footage of the Iranian Embassy siege as a starting point for a defensive, self-involved take on British secret agents. Lewis Collins plays Peter Skellen, a special forces operative tasked with using his wideboy charm to infiltrate a Soviet-financed peace movement. Despite a little work to the contrary, our hero registers as even more callous than James Bond simply because the filmmakers bothered to sketch out a life beyond the mission for him.
Skellen is married with a young child, living in a million pound Kensington mew, and driving around in a Lotus sports car. He's invested in the system, upwardly mobile. As the film develops we learn that these relationships haven't been included to define or illuminate the empty, mechanical Skellen. His wife Jenny, played by Rosalind Lloyd, doesn't prevent him from shagging his way into the radical political organisation he's been sent to police. No, Jenny and baby Samantha have simply been included to ease some personal stakes into a kidnapping finale.
Who Dares Wins isn't interested in people or their motivations. Instead, the film is characterised by a hectoring, venomous desire to have you agree with its reactionary, right-wing politics. This level of insistence is so ubiquitous that it starts to have a strange kind of purchase within the structure of the piece itself. Skellen doesn't passively observe his dithering quarry, he actively nudges them along, urging they think bigger and take the fight straight to the establishment. Skellen isn't a sleeper agent, he's a catalyst, a company man counselling Judy Davis' champagne socialist to take up arms against the state.
Still, when it finally hits, the commando assault on an imperilled embassy is fantastic. The sequence is built around actual special forces tactics and incidents, featuring real SAS troopers under the balaclavas. Firefights are brief and definitive with vanquished terrorists absolutely shredded by flash-bang grenades and submachine gun bursts. Collins, a credibly physical presence throughout, is right at home hurling himself into forward-rolls then coming up firing. The star would go on to audition for 007, missing out thanks to his aggressive intensity, ending up in a series of cheap German-Italian mercenary films instead. Director Ian Sharp meanwhile would find his way to Bond doing second-unit work on GoldenEye.