Canada, 1978, 97 minutes, Colour.
Peter O'Toole, David Hemmings, Donald Pleasence, Barry Morse.
Directed by Martyn Burke.
A Canadian/UK production, well written and crisply paced, taking a contemporary theme in an unnamed European setting: the modern coup d'etat. It persuades us that such a revolutionary enterprise, though not uncommon, is no easy move and involves heavy risks and the uncertainty of human error. The ironic title suggests a ruthlessness and a gamesmanship that indicates any victor will be a loser and idealism is soaked in innocent and guilty blood. David Hemmings has a very good role as the 'humane' revolutionary Colonel. Peter O'Toole gives a strident Night of the Generals performance and Donald Pleasance is again an obnoxious villain. A good thriller and an interesting political drama.
1. The meaning of the title, its ambiguities? Expectations, themes: social, political, military? An exploration of power and its influence on others, on the person wielding it? Power corrupting? Play and games, deadly games, war games?
2. The quality of the British/Canadian production? The creating of a Middle European atmosphere? The stars? How persuasive the plot, characterisation, the possibility of the events happening?
3. The presentation of Middle Europe, visual emphases e.g. on the buildings, the cities, roads and communications? The tones of Europe? Free Europe, Iron Curtain Europe, fascist states? The blend of old and new worlds? A cumulative effect, how convincing? Its relevance to America?
4. The world of politics, the world of social issues, the media, terrorists? The film's concentration on showing the people within this world, generally not the ordinary people? The atmosphere of streets, martial law and cities being occupied?
5. Audience response to themes of freedom, civil rights, coup d'etat? Plots and ruthlessness? The inherent violence of the situation?
6. The film's focus on Narriman and Rousseau as heroes? Audience liking for them, admiration? Military, intellectual? Ideals, behaviour? A precarious situation, caution and impetuosity? The families of the two men and the lyrical sequences establishing this e.g. the picnics? The motives of the two men, patriotism, concern for freedom? How pure were their motives? How much were they involved in power play? The irony of their defeat?
7. The contrast with Colonel Zeller? The presence of Peter O'Toole and his neurotic Night of the Generals style? First impressions, his presence amongst the group, his influence, ideas? How mad did he seem, ambitious? The irony of his having an affair with Rousseau's wife? The contrast of the intimate sequences with his political and military behaviour? How well drawn was his character? Seeing him in action, his role in the plot? The importance of his co-ordinating action? His intensity, clashes, manoeuvres? His leading in battle, his winning? What aspects of military power play and fascism did he represent? The military coup and the leader who generally emerges?
8. Narriman and David Hemmings' sympathetic style? His plans, contacts, exercises in persuasion? His growing ruthlessness and intensity? Iris being poised on the verge of success? His idealism making him blind to betrayal and reality? His failure?
9. Rousseau and the calm intellectual theorist? His relationship with his wife? His wife's affair? The importance of the arrest of Donna and her torture? The influence on Rousseau and Narriman to move in the coup d'etat? The animosity towards Blair?
10. Blair and his role in the state, arrests, torture? An evil man, his menacing, interrogation? His work in his office. in the prison? His investigations? His seeming subservience yet his role in surveillance and his power play? Donald Pleasence typical in this kind of role?
11. The portrait of the other members of the coup d'etat? those who were loyal, their tactics and strategies, the various weaknesses e.g. drinking? Vulnerability to Blair and Zeller?
12. The background of terrorists, students, political prisoners, torture and execution? The similarities with the world of the '70s?
13. The film's detailed presentation of the coup d’etat? timing, communications, the battle? An ordinary day? Zeller and his taking control?
14. Narriman and his attempts to establish a new regime? The repetition of the opening sequence with the establishment of government? The irony of Zeller's success, control, confrontation of Narriman?
15. The ugliness of the executions and the irony of the deaths of Narriman and Blair The opening up of the world of the new dictator and the repetition of what had been? Is the film saying that this is typical of our civilisation? That people get the kind of government they deserve? The power and ambition of mad and ruthless people? The inevitability of fascist regimes and the loss of civil rights?