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When Oliver Reed met Saddam Hussain...

July 24, 2016

 

 

'Saddam Goes to Hollywood' was shown on Channel 4 tonight, an interesting documentary about an odd moment in history. In 1980, Saddam Hussain wanted to promote an image of Iraq as a powerful Middle-Eastern country and so commissioned a movie about the 1920's uprising against the British Empire. 

 

Pre-production began and was going well until news came through that Iraq had invaded their neighbour Iran - Saddam exercising a show of strength. However, the depth of the fightback from the Iranian army surprised Hussain, and a full-scale war began.

 

Against this backdrop, the production team had assembled British cast and crew members, with Oliver Reed the big name among the actors. Reed departed for Iraq with his 17-year old girlfriend (who took her school homework with her so not to fall behind) in-tow and started as he intended to go on by drinking non-stop during the plane ride.

 

The documentary brought several interesting strands; one actor frustrated at spending time in the luxury hotel the cast and crew were ensconced visited a city they'd been forbidden to travel to officially. There he saw the dead soldiers from the front brought to the mosque by distraught families. This reality contrasted with the movie - a propaganda piece for the dictator who started the contemporary war.

 

By coincidence, a team from BBC Panorama were also in Baghdad, aiming to secure an interview with Hussain. They eventually got to speak to him, and with him being interviewed in Iraq and not a neutral location, he was very confident and assured, claiming he was justified in torturing his political enemies.

 

Eventually, the movie was shown at a small number of film festivals in late 1984, 4 years after Hussain first instigated production. He had allocated it a budget equivalent to Return of the Jedi and yet it never gained distribution. 

 

All in all, the programme shone a light on an unusual corner in history; a unremarkable and bloated movie being made while horrific political events by a ruthless dictator took place at the same time. And at the centre, Reed who's career had been hindered by his hell-raising and led him to accepting jobs such as this and Hussain, the smiling autocrat. So...who will be cast in the movie about the story?

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