On April 30, 1980, six armed men stormed the Iranian Embassy in Princess Gate, London and took 26 hostages in the process. These terrorists were affiliated with the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA) and their demands were simple: release their specific list of Arab prisoners and provide safe passage out of the United Kingdom. 6 Days documents the events leading up to and culminating in a dramatic siege of the embassy by the Special Air Service (SAS), six days after it was initially taken.
Presented in a linear narrative, Glenn Standring’s compact script presents an introspective glance into the horror of the unknown. Representing all sides of the conflict (negotiations, press, SAS, and eventually inside the embassy itself), the audience is served up a healthy dose of information surrounding the events as they transpired – without overwhelming us in the process – and showcases each group’s suspicions of the other’s intentions.
Forgoing the standard tropes of political dramas akin to 6 Days, director Toa Fraser elects to ratchet up the tension and present this story through the lens of a taut thriller. And though the running time barely eclipses 90 minutes, the proceedings never feel rushed nor the details ignored. Fraser stacks his film like Lego blocks, each one laying down the foundation of what’s to come, unfolding the narrative at a deliberately reasonable pace.
Carrying most of the weight of the film are Jamie Bell and Mark Strong, both actors strategically playing against type. As SAS leader Rusty Firmin, Bell casts his childlike innocence to the wind and seizes the opportunity to get tough and fast as a stoic man-of-action. Forced to prepare for a myriad of possibilities, Rusty remains steadfast in his determination to keep his team sharp and focused as a potential strike awaits even the faintest gunshot.
As hostage negotiator Max Vernon, Strong is tasked with eschewing his brand of no-nonsense confidence and instead paints a portrait of a man desperate to avoid any human casualties, including those pointing machine guns at innocent civilians. It is through Max’s negotiations with the terrorist’s leader, Salim (Ben Turner), that 6 Days expands its own ideology and presents us with an empathetic villain of sorts. Strong’s work is so deft and subtle, it isn’t until the film’s final act that we come to the realization that he has redirected our own preordained sensibilities to loathe a person like Salim, and we somehow have been retrained to identify him through Max’s eyes.
Though Kate Addie’s coverage of the incident was groundbreaking at the time, Fraser struggles to find a cohesive way to work Abbie Cornish’s spot-on take of the famed newscaster into the foreground. Reflecting back on her position several times, Addie feels more a spectator than a participant in the historical record – at least as we see her here – and leaves the film with its only true weak link.
Learning the specifics of Operation Nimrod, along with the various starts and stops typical of political standoffs, 6 Days takes on a storied event and presents it as a riveting tale delivered with precision and focus. As the SAS team’s preparation gives way to chaos, Fraser straps us to the back of his participants for a full appreciation of our ride into this brief moment in history.
Starring Jamie Bell, Mark Strong, Abbie Cornish
Written by Glenn Standring
Directed by Toa Fraser