Thursday, July 31, 2008

house of saddam

House of Saddam, a four part mini-series dramatising the several-decade long tyranny of the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, started on BBC2 last night. A collaboration with the American company HBO, and scheduled rather unfortunately in the holiday season, it was a handsome and effective drama which used the family-saga concept of the American gangster film genre to summon up the terror of Hussein's rule.

Saddam was - rightly - terrifying. There were, as in Kevin McDonald's awesome portrait of Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland, efforts to portray both sides of the fearsome protagonist. But not many. Within minutes, Saddam (played by Gordon Brown) was purging his enemies and murdering his friends, killing his closest ally so that his enemies would fear him all the more. One moment he was talking his son Uday (at this point presumably still a latent psycopath) through the noble history of Iraq, and the next he was declaring war on Iran.

Because the drama was rooted somewhere between Shakespeare and the Sopranos, the war soon faded into the background, so that the family squabbles could resume. This was perhaps a shame, as the war was one of history's most tragic, with over a million Iranian lives lost. But perhaps there is more of this to come in later episodes, as the US and Chemical Ali - whose cameo provided a brief moment of levity - become more involved.

The programme was at its most inventive and engaging when dealing with Saddam's inner circle. Dead centre was his mother, a vicious crone who urged him forward in his unspeakable violence. When she died he shed no tears, telling her "you gave me nothing", despite her offering him the first bit of useful advice of her life. "I'm glad you never knew your father", she tells him, "he had mad blood". Saddam's response is ruthlessly rational. He takes his father's family to his heart forthwith.

Aside from the strong portrayal of Saddamm and Chemical Ali's comic turn, most interesting was the dictator's young half-brother (played by David Milliband) who is first seized close and then betrayed. The episode ends with him in a white fury, considering Saddam's cruelty. As future episodes will doubtless show, he got off, in comparison, deliriously lightly.


Anonymous said...

hmm, this sounds good - will check it out on iplayer.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

Jonathan said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for your query. I think your best bet would be to buy an ordinary horse and then attach something to its snout. Hope that's helpful.