We never see Margaret Thatcher or even hear her voice until the final minutes of 6 Days, yet the British prime minister’s cold, implacable presence pervades nearly every frame of director Toa Fraser’s film. Depicting the six-day standoff between terrorists associated with the Iranian separatist group Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA) and the British government at London’s Iranian embassy in 1980, 6 Days moves methodically and dispassionately toward its predestined conclusion. By the end, it leaves the root causes of the militant group’s malcontent entirely unexplored, bluntly justifying, even celebrating, the Iron Lady’s typically staunch refusal to admit her country’s guilt for the byproducts of its imperialist ventures or to negotiate with terrorists no matter the cost.
In 1980, Thatcher was still a fledgling prime minister, so the potential rescue of the 26 hostages and the execution of the terrorists provided her with the chance to display her strength to the world at large. But rather than following the hostage situation from the upper echelons of the British government where the important decisions were made, 6 Days unfolds from the viewpoints of three individuals on the ground: Max Vernon (Mark Strong), a hostage negotiator, Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish), a BBC news reporter, and Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell), the leader of the Special Air Services (SAS) unit that’s waiting outside the embassy for the go-ahead to begin their raid. By presenting multiple perspectives, 6 Days operates under the guise of well-rounded objectivity, further shrouding its blunt, politically charged admonitions with a structure that portends peace and violence as equally likely outcomes.
While Max is presented as a pacifist who’s looking for a peaceful resolution through his negotiations with the terrorists’ leader, Salim (Ben Turner), an increasing futility encroaches on the arbitration as Max continually runs into situations that prevent him from fully appeasing the Iranians’ demands. He’s presented as admirable for the intellectually agile ways he convinces Salim to release two hostages and keep the lines of communication between the two sides open. Nonetheless, his methods are ultimately presented as ineffectual in the face of the impending siege, whereupon the film transfers all its praises of heroism to Rusty and the SAS squad, who prepare diligently for the opportunity to make Mother England proud—and on live television.
Despite the historic nature of Kate Adie’s news coverage, 6 Days leaves her sidelined for most of the film and never finds a meaningful way to integrate her perspective into the narrative. But just as the cultural impact of Kate capturing the iconic images of the siege live on air is ignored by Fraser, so is the context that led to Salim and his fellow DRFLA members’ invasion of the Iranian embassy. While the film is justly critical of the terrorist group’s violent methods, it also fails to provide any historical or geopolitical background that may help explain the desperation that led to their actions.
Fraser’s failure to properly contextualize these actions only amplifies 6 Days’s tendency to quietly condone Thatcher’s tactics without examining the philosophy and methodology behind her unyielding decisions. Instead, the film presents the siege as an essential inevitability and celebrates it as the ultimate call for law and order by painting the SAS as a conservator of good, only to be deployed against pure evil. In focusing so intently on the failure of the negotiations and the success of the siege, 6 Days boils down the intricate relationship between Iran and the West into a tense standoff of conflicting ideals where the values and perspectives of only one side really matter.