Release Date(s)1982 (February 15, 2022)
Studio(s)MGM/UA (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
A script is the backbone of a movie. If it’s solidly written with a believable plot, interesting characters, and sharp dialogue, and if the direction is clever, it has a good chance of success. But with a shaky screenplay, however strong the other elements may be, the film will suffer.
The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins) is a political action thriller, written by Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men), based on implausible actions that often defy logic. The plot capitalizes on a spate of embassy seizures by terrorists in the early 1980s. Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins), a member of Britain’s elite military unit SAS (Special Air Service), is discharged for torturing two men under his command. In short order, despite being devoted to his wife and young child, Skellen romances Frankie Leith (Judy Davis, My Brilliant Career), leader of an anti-nuclear terrorist cell in London. She responds well to his advances and brings him into the secretive group. We later learn that Skellen’s ouster was a ruse to help him infiltrate and keep tabs on the group. He learns that they plan to hold a number of international diplomats hostage, including the American Secretary of State (Richard Widmark), meeting in an embassy in London. Frankie and her henchmen, including Skellen, succeed in capturing the diplomats.
Their primary condition for releasing the hostages is that a bomb be detonated on a nuclear submarine base in Scotland to illustrate the evils of nuclear power. If this demand is not met within several hours, they will start killing the hostages. The logistics are, of course, impossible. The hostages and the audience know that such a demand will never be met. And since the early part of the film shows SAS members practicing a coordinated attack on a terrorist-held building, we can be sure that things won’t go well for the terrorists.
What makes the plot so absurd is the fact that Skellen is so obviously a plant by the government and yet the hard-boiled Frankie is too infatuated to see it. Some of the group’s members are wary and follow him to see what he’s up to, but Skellen is cautious. Their suspicions don’t disappear completely but they nonetheless allow him to be privy to and, in fact, take part in their carefully guarded plans. Frankie is portrayed as an intelligent if misguided social activist, yet sleeping with Skellen appears to make her cast all caution to the wind. The romantic connection doesn’t work and is a lazy way to get Skellen into Frankie’s inner circle.
The film features an excellent performance by Davis. Her big moment is a back-and-forth with Widmark about her plan. Widmark’s Secretary of State explains rationally why the plot is doomed to failure. The powers that be will never bomb Scotland. It’s impossible to evacuate huge numbers of innocent people in the group’s time frame. Whether they kill the diplomats or not, the terrorists will be either killed or captured. Davis’ Frankie is passionate and says it’s the message the group will send that’s important. She and her cohorts are willing to die for their beliefs. Fiery, imperturbable, with icy self-assurance, Frankie is determined to see the plan through no matter the outcome.
Collins, on the other hand, is a poor man’s James Bond. Though good looking and highly skilled, his Skellen is an empty vessel, emotionless, humorless, and stiff. Director Ian Sharp favors close-ups of Collins, which is unfortunate since they do little to reveal what’s happening in Skellen’s head. A lightweight actor, Collins can’t hold the screen against Davis, who is far more compelling. When the bullets fly, he’s more in his element, but for the dramatic scenes, his performance is one-note.
In a small but stand-out part, Ingrid Pitt plays Helga, a cold-blooded weapons expert who is one of the group’s fiercest “soldiers.” She’s the antithesis of Frankie, and appears to savor violence. Her big scene occurs when she takes Collins’ wife hostage and the two women come to blows. Pitt is frightening in her focused intensity and thoroughly convincing.
Widmark, who enters the film more than halfway through, looks appropriately distinguished and has an air of arrogance as he tries to reason with Frankie. It’s interesting that an American diplomat is the one to stand up to the terrorists. Widmark and Robert Webber (as head of the Strategic Air Command) are the only Americans in an otherwise all-British cast.
Director Ian Sharp bookends The Final Option with some exciting action sequences, edited with split-second timing. If you can look past the holes in the plot and the inconsistencies, it’s an entertaining thrill ride. But if you crave sharper, more thoughtful writing, look elsewhere.
The Final Option was shot by director of photography Phil Meheux on 35 mm film using Panavision and Panaflex cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time in the US. Clarity and detail are somewhat soft, with facial details not as sharp as in other Kino Lorber releases of films from this period. The color palette tends toward darker tones for the terrorists’ outfits and headquarters. Meheux films scenes traditionally, with dialogue switching back and forth between characters. The only long takes are on Davis as she explains the goal of the terrorist group. The action scenes are edited well, creating excitement. Davis wears a green dress at dinner with Skellen and a red gown when she’s disguised as a musician to gain access to the embassy. In the embassy, wives wear multi-colored gowns and the lighting is brighter with an elegantly decorated dinner table, complete with flower arrangements. Widmark and Robert Webber wear white. The commandos wear military khaki. Frankie’s apartment is tastefully appointed in shades of beige, mustard yellow, and brown. Blacks are deep and rich.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and precise throughout. The early scenes involving commandos going through simulated rescue operations feature gunfire, men shouting commands, and explosions. A protest parade mixes ambient crowd noise, dialogue, and sound effects. Sound effects dominate the final 20 minutes, as the military’s special force attempts to defuse the hostage situation. The functional score by Roy Budd heightens excitement and suspense at key moments.
The following bonus materials are included:
- Audio Commentary by Ian Sharp, Euan Lloyd, and Jonathan Sothcott
- Last of the Gentlemen Producers: The Life and Works of Euan Lloyd (38:59)
- The Final Option Trailer (1:47)
- Who Dares Wins Trailer (2:45)
- Treasure of the Four Crowns Trailer (2:00)
- Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins Trailer (2:18)
- When Eight Bells Toll Trailer (2:50)
- Wild Geese II Trailer (2:50)
In the audio commentary, producer Euan Lloyd notes the idea for The Final Option came from a 1980 incident in Great Britain when hostages were held at the Iranian Embassy. Helicopters were coming in low, men were lowered from ropes to the embassy roof, and grenades were thrown through windows. Lloyd asked an ex-intelligence man to write a screenplay, which was presented to Reginald Rose for discussions. In eight weeks, Rose came up with a camera-ready script. Initially, Lloyd couldn’t get the cooperation of the SAS because the organization thought the film would not portray the SAS in a favorable light. Lloyd, however, did retain the SAS’s good will. As financing came in, director, crew, and actors were hired. Lloyd had seen Lewis Collins on a TV show and felt he had great potential. Judy Davis had recently received very good reviews for My Brilliant Career, and agreed to play Frankie after reading speeches of Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda. The film’s shooting schedule was eight and a half weeks, but Sharp was used to working quickly from his TV experience. The film did well in Great Britain, but was released in the United States to a small number of theaters and went quickly to television. The methods of rescuing the hostages shown in the film are identical to what happened with the Iranian Embassy. The SAS eventually decided to cooperate with the filmmakers and use the opportunity as a training exercise, with many actual military men deployed.
In The Last of the Gentlemen Producers, Roger Moore, Ingrid Pitt, Kenneth Griffith, John Glen, Rosalind Lloyd, Joan Armatrading, and Norman Spencer offer their thoughts on producer Euan Lloyd. Born in 1923, Lloyd learned from the movies. He became a theater manager but “had a dream of going beyond.” He worked as a publicist for Eagle-Lion and became friends with actor Alan Ladd, who got Lloyd a job in the production end of movies. Lloyd worked for Cubby Broccoli on The Secret War, his first independent picture starring Richard Widmark. Lloyd was adept at pitching movie ideas and produced several Westerns based on Louis L’Amour books, including Shalako, for which he paid Sean Connery $1 million to star. His most difficult film was A Man Called Noon, which Lloyd notes “practically killed me.” Lloyd was physically ill, actor Richard Harris was drinking heavily, and there were financial difficulties.
Not carried over from overseas DVD and Blu-ray release is an episode of The Electric Theatre Show on the making of the film, a vintage making-of featurette, and a photo gallery.
The Final Option is slow going in its first half but the pace ultimately quickens and culminates in an exciting, action-filled climax. It’s a shame that the details of the script couldn’t have been worked out to make characters’ actions seem more authentic. The terrorists appear short-sighted and nearly oblivious to the Trojan horse moving freely among them. A postscript to the film states that in one year alone (1980), 42 embassies and diplomatic missions were seized worldwide by terrorists and radicals with 22 ambassadors taken hostage and 5 embassies destroyed.
- Dennis Seuling