“Who Dares Wins” is a 1982 British political thriller film directed by Ian Sharp and starring Lewis Collins, Judy Davis, Richard Widmark and Edward Woodward.
The title is the motto of the British Army’s elite Special Air Service (SAS).
The plot is based largely on the Iranian Embassy siege of 1980, when a team from the SAS made a sudden assault on the building to rescue those being held hostage inside.
As producer, Euan Lloyd was inspired to make the film by visiting the scene during the siege and watching live coverage of it on television, moving quickly to prevent someone else developing the same idea. An initial synopsis was created by George Markstein. This was then turned into a novel by James Follett, as The Tiptoe Boys, in 30 days. Meanwhile, chapter-by-chapter as the novel was completed, it was posted to Reginald Rose in Los Angeles, who wrote the final screenplay.
The film was released in the US as The Final Option.
A demonstration by unilateral nuclear disarmament protesters from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in London is interrupted when one of the protesters is violently killed. British security forces learn that a terrorist group attached to CND has been planning a significant act of terrorism for the near future. The person killed during the protest demonstration was an undercover intelligence officer who had infiltrated the terrorist group. The commanding officer of the Special Air Service, Colonel Hadley, suggests a new line of inquiry for the investigation.
Two foreign officers arrive to train at the SAS’s headquarters: Captain Hagen is a member of the US Army Rangers and Captain Freund is a member of the West German GSG 9. They are taken to the close quarter battle house and witness an SAS room entry assault. Colonel Hadley introduces them to the SAS man playing the hostage, Captain Peter Skellen, and informs them they will be with Skellen’s troop, consisting of Baker, Dennis, and Williamson. During an exercise in the Brecon Beacons, Hadley and Major Steele discover Skellen’s troop torturing Hagen and Freund. Skellen is dismissed from the Regiment. The torture and dismissal are a ruse to repaint Skellen as a disgraced former SAS operative, and Hagen and Freund as innocent victims in the scheme.
Skellen’s intelligence contact, Ryan, advises him to meet Frankie Leith and Rod Walker, the two people who lead the People’s Lobby (PL), the terrorist group believed to be planning the act of terrorism. Skellen tells his wife that he will be going away for a while on a mission. A foreign man, Malik, arranges with a city banker for the distribution of large sums of money to various left organisations, including the PL. Skellen arranges to meet Leith at a bar frequented by PL members and initiates a romantic relationship with her, to the annoyance of Walker and his cohorts Helga and Mac. Leith takes Skellen to the organisation’s offices and introduces him to the group. Leith appreciates Skellen’s SAS background, and offers him a job as security consultant to the PL; she also allows him to move in with her. To strengthen Skellen’s cover story, Hadley informs Hagen and Freund of Skellen’s location; the wronged men attack Skellen at Leith’s home and inflict a severe beating. As a result, Leith’s few remaining doubts about Skellen vapourise, but Walker and his cronies still are not fully convinced. Helga observes Skellen meeting the same unknown individual (Ryan) in various locations. Their scrutiny intensifies when Walker and his associates witness Skellen’s meeting with his wife and daughter. They use photos from their surveillance to convince Leith that Skellen is not all he seems. Walker orders Helga to kill Ryan, cutting Skellen’s link to Hadley. Hadley has no choice but to trust Skellen’s abilities to uncover the group’s plans and escape alive. He orders police protection for Skellen’s family.
Despite his official advisory capacity, Skellen is denied details about the upcoming PL operation. On the day of the operation, Leith and Walker instruct Helga and Mac to take Skellen’s family hostage. Leith uses this to blackmail Skellen into unconditional co-operation.
The terrorists and Skellen arrive at the US Embassy in a hijacked coach. Wearing stolen US Air Force uniforms, they gain entry to the secure compound and take hostages of the US Ambassador, US Secretary of State, US Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Air Command, and British Foreign Secretary, along with their wives and the embassy staff. Hadley and his police counterpart, Commander Powell, arrive at the Embassy to receive the demands of the terrorists: unless a US nuclear missile is launched at Holy Loch naval base, all the hostages will be killed. Currie questions Leith’s motivations, and Leith responds that her ultimate goal is the disarmament of the whole world. This opens a debate about method and political philosophy that only antagonises the terrorists.
Meanwhile, Dennis and three fellow SAS troopers arrive at Skellen’s home. They set up in the attached house next door, using sensing devices to covertly observe Helga, Mac, and their captives through the wall.
Skellen manages to separate himself from the group by feigning a need for the toilet. He uses a shaving mirror to heliograph floodlights and signal Hadley via Morse code, telling him to attack at 10 a.m. while Skellen creates a diversion. Hadley cannot get permission for an SAS attack because the British Home Secretary insists that Powell resolve the situation through negotiation. As the tension mounts inside the embassy, a mistake by one of the terrorists causes the death of the SAC C-in-C. This enables Powell and Hadley to get the permission for their assault.
The SAS operatives in the house adjoining Skellen’s remove a large area of the bricks separating the attached houses. Meanwhile, Helga’s temper at the Skellen’s crying baby escalates into a fight with Skellen’s wife. The operatives work fast to attach a charge to the exposed wall, cut the lights and blow the wall so two SAS soldiers can shoot through the gap and kill both Helga and Mac.
As the SAS mount an assault on the embassy, the terrorists panic. Skellen overpowers and kills three terrorists. The SAS, deploying from helicopters, force open doors and enter through windows. As they methodically clear the embassy, Skellen kills more terrorists including Walker. Skellen joins with Baker and his troop to search for Leith, as the other troopers bundle the hostages to safety. When Skellen hesitates to kill Leith on sight, Major Steele kills her before she can kill Skellen.
The ambassador thanks the troopers as they leave the embassy. Skellen and his troop apologise to Hagen and Freund, explain the reason for their actions, and make peace. Skellen departs on one of the helicopters with his colleagues.
In a government building, Sir Richard, a politician, complains to a colleague about the violent end to the siege. He then meets the financier Malik, and they discuss future similar actions.
An on-screen list of notable terrorist incidents appears over the closing credits, accompanied by a rendition of The Red Flag.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Ian Sharp.
- Producer(s): Chris Chrisafis, Euan Lloyd, and Raymond Menmuir.
- Writer(s): Reginald Rose.
- Music: Roy Budd.
- Cinematography: Phil Meheux.
- Editor(s): John Grover.
- Production: Richmond Light Horse Productions/ Varius.
- Distributor(s): Rank Film Distribution.
- Release Date: 26 August 1982.
- Running Time: 125 minutes.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.