Who Dares Wins
When an undercover police agent provocateur/informer is assassinated during an anti-nuclear peace march (with a crossbow!), disgraced former SAS captain Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins) is tasked with infiltrating protest group the People’s Lobby which may just be a front for a foreign-funded terrorist group.
Waltzing into the middle of an agitprop performance dance piece being performed in a pub, Skellen brusquely romances People’s Lobby leader sexy American bourgeoise heiress Frankie Leith (Judy Davis) and then it’s back to hers for a spot of rumpy-pumpy. Pretty soon she’s sharing secrets as well as her bed. Infiltrating the group, Skellen soon discovers that the hardcore leftie activists at its heart are planning a major terrorist attack to highlight their anti-nuclear peace agenda.
Before he can warn his contact they put their plan into action taking over the American ambassador’s residence and holding hostage a group of British and American bigwigs, among them the US Secretary of State (Richard Widmark). Their demands are simple (and pretty f*cking insane for an anti-nuclear activist group); they want the world to see the dangers of nuclear war by demanding the British government launch a nuclear missile at the Holy Loch nuclear submarine base in Scotland. If not, they’ll start executing the hostages. With time running out for the hostages, it’s up to Skellen to take out the terrorists…
Inspired by the SAS storming of the Iranian Embassy in 1980, an event if you’re old enough you may remember being televised live to the nation, Who Dares Wins is rabidly right-wing nonsense that’s more fun than it has a right to be. The direction by TV director Ian Sharp is nothing special but the script has a propulsive brutality that never slows up long enough to let you dwell on how daft it is and the performances are decent. Hot of The Professionals, Collins essentially is just playing Bodie again but he makes for a convincingly suave, swaggering tough guy and would probably have made a better Bond in hindsight than Timothy Dalton while Davis is good as the terrorist with a neat line in knitwear and horror queen Ingrid Pitt turns up as a terrifyingly unmaternal terrorist.
The film’s politics are bonkers; right-wing, flag-wavingly patriotic, all wooly liberals are divided into deluded peaceniks and leftie terrorists, Skellen’s mission seems remarkably similar to the likes of more recent police agent provocateurs like Mark Kennedy and the film closes with a list of terrorist atrocities while the Labour Party anthem, The Red Flag plays. But be honest. You’re not watching Who Dares Wins for it’s incisive political discourse. You’re watching it for the action, for the 20-minute bravura sequence when Skellen turns the tables on the terrorists and the SAS storm the building. It’s a violent, claustrophobic assault on the senses, the P.O.V. shots from within one SAS trooper’s gas mask heightening this sensation and predating the likes of Doom by 20 years. Apparently staged and choreographed by real-life SAS men (all listed as ‘Anonymous’ in the closing credits) who took part in the Iranian Siege, it’s a tense, stunning, sweaty-handed climax to a film which can be seen as an unsubtle recruiting ad for the SAS. But, if you switch off your brain, it’s brutal, thick-ear fun.
Reginald Rose from the novel by James Follett
Lewis Collins, Judy Davis, John Duttine, Richard Widmark, Tony Doyle, Edward Woodward, Ingrid Pitt and Robert Webber