This film directed by and starring Ben Afleck has been raved about, largely due to the plot being so incredible you could not make it up.
In 1979 mobs were protesting on the streets of Tehran, and when they broke into the US Embassy, 6 of their diplomatic staff fled. They were refused sanctuary by the Kiwis and Brits, but were taken in by the Canadians.
Then the story gets really strange- plans to get them out of the country involve a 300 mile cycle trip in the middle of winter, until Afleck’s character sets up a scheme involving them pretending to be filmmakers in search of exotic locations for a sci-fi fantasy. The ending is a bit cheesy, but hey, this is Hollywood. It is a great story, and John Goodman and Alan Arkin are brilliant as the Hollywood Mr Fixits.
The audience sat through the end credits which, to me, is the mark of a film’s success. One thing that kept coming up in the film was the fact that Jimmy Carter- who since leaving office has quietly become a great peacemaker- was in the White House at the time, and I do wonder if the events in this film, and the successful release of the rest of the US hostages, without a shot being fired – 444 days later- was significant. I wonder if there had been a more beligerant president then, would this story have ended in a bloodbath.
This film also has a relevance for me, as I was in the region shortly before these events. I took a year off from university in 1979 and after interrailing round Europe, hitchhiking in Britain I spent 2 months travelling overland from London to Delhi via the Soviet Union.
Years later I was on BBC Radio in Bristol talking about female travellers when I realised that only 3 western coaches had gone through Iran between the Shah of Iran being thrown out, and the bloody uprisings that were at the core of this film.
There were 2 other women on the show, and one had been on one of the other coaches, which makes our memories rather special.
I kept a diary of the time, but unfortunately it seems to have been lost in my last house move, but I do recall the high speed dash we were forced to make through Iran due to the dangers. I recall the terrible time we females had had being pestered by men wherever we went in eastern Turkey, but in Iran where we expected much more of the same, it was like a breath of fresh air.
We had avoided Tehran but we threatened to riot if we didn’t get a day’s relief from the endless time on the bus, so were allowed to wander briefly round Isfahan.
The locals were lovely. Polite but friendly, and desperate for outside news, and keen to tell us their stories, They were clearly nervous about being seen talking to us for long, but hey helped us cross roads, asked us where we were from and were amazed and delighted at our bravery at being there. More like bone headed stupidity, or ignorance – this was still a time when having a Western passport was like a safety shield, rather than a target, though many American backpackers were already putting maple leafs on their rucksacks for safety.
When I was working in the Job centre years later, I came into contact with a few Iranians, and was always amazed at their charm, intelligence and grasp of English and other languages. They all made me feel stupid, but not in a nasty way. I have come across an Iranian guy who does catering, and I am tempted to consider Iranian food as the most interesting food I’ve come across, and they have a a strong tradition of vegetarianism too, with fascinating mixes of sweet and savoury that work brilliantly.
A lot of bad things have happened due to western powers throwing their weight around, but the battle over control f Iran’s oil reserves is a particularly nasty one, and one that is largely forgotten, so I am really grateful that Affleck made this film, to remind us of a largely forgotten part of recent history.