14 October 2007 | bob the moo
The subject is interesting but the delivery makes it come over like an Iraqi version of Eastenders
Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter Raghad watches television in Iran, seeing the famous images of her father being pulled from his hiding place by US soldiers. She thinks back to her days in Iraq when Saddam was still in power, with his family and closest advisors all around him. However, within this close tribe, family pressures and the ambition of Raghad's unbalanced brother Uday starts to destabilise the whole Government.
There is no shortage of films about Iraq and Saddam. OK not all of them are that great but many of them are very good, in particular I have seen several topic specific documentaries about Iraq that were insightful and shocking. So, one has to wonder why many of them are sneaked out on BBC4 while channel 4 chose to give this drama a prime slot on a Thursday night and lots of publicity. Why do I say this? It is not that the film lacks material that offers interest because it does. The inner workings of Saddam's government and the nature of his family is interesting "backstory" if you will into a much bigger global situation and this is why I tuned in to watch, but sadly it is the delivery of this potential where it all falls down.
The script is the root of the problem because it is full of unconvincing dialogue very English, very modern. Craig seems to have been given the basic story but then left to put words into the mouths of his characters to fit the overall story, seemingly without much idea of the times, places or people he is writing about other than their actions. Menaul then delivers this in a way that is inconsistent but certainly never once feels like a serious film about this powerful family and the country they ruled (I would say destroyed but it is all relative isn't it?). Instead the delivery comes off like a hybrid of British sitcom and Eastenders.
At the start we are treated to "jaunty" almost jokey music in the background as the family and the government are established for the viewer. Why? What purpose did it serve I asked myself because to me all it did was clunk and stand out as being odd. From here on in we get more of the violence and such of the tale but the dialogue and performances conspire to make this come across as an Iraqi version of the Mitchell brothers going at it in Eastenders and the effect is to make it feel comic and cheap. The performances match this and nobody seems to be able to do much with the characters and dialogue handed them and as a result they do all come over like they are playing in a television soap. Bonnard's narration and performance is weak and, as the heart of the film she is poorly cast what a year though, from HBO's Five Days to this. Townsend matches this and he has no screen presence as Saddam, which is a failing if you think about the man himself in his trial. The character to be had was Uday, as it offers the chance for an actor to ham it up like Pacino in Scarface. Unfortunately Mays just does the basics with nothing behind it OK, we are told that Uday is perhaps unhinged due to how his father treated him but Mays cannot bring this all all he can do is the superficial things, which might impress some but didn't do much for me.
The cast do struggle though with a script that is near worthless. OK, it might provide some insight in the overall view of Saddam's tribe but in the delivery it is cheaply made with little to convince or engage.