Did we like it?
While the account of Saddam’s latter years in power were given an authentic gleam through the testimony of his eldest daughter, it didn’t really offer any mitigating, insightful evidence to his ugly reputation as one of recent history’s most brutal tyrants.
What was good about it?
• Daniel Mays’ astonishing performance of the malevolent Uday Hussein. While it was easy to make this maniac appear evil, Mays really brought him to life with a jarring lisp and an inclination to hold his mouth open like a tiger about to devour live prey, while his eyes were so crazed throughout the drama a little asylum seemed to be being built in his pupils to keep them incarcerated and wandering off elsewhere to become a danger to the public.
• Stanley Townsend’s Saddam contrasted starkly with Mays’ Uday, and even though he had little to work with in the scope of Saddam’s character the scenes between cold, sadistic father and unhinged, wayward son were always gripping. To punish Uday after he shot his uncle (and Saddam’s half-brother) with a machine gun, Saddam executed his son’s beloved dogs, a scene made all the more powerful by Uday’s distress, which was far more anguished than any guilt he had ever shown for killing people.
• The whole of Saddam’s clan were portrayed as being as barbarically murderous as one another. Hussein Kamal, the husband of Saddam’s eldest daughter Raghad (who also ‘narrated’ the story), fled to Jordan after he questioned Saddam’s decision to appoint Uday to a ministerial post. Once in Jordan, he denounced his former leader and supplied information to the UN on the alleged WMDs in Iraq. But this was no act of altruism on Hussein’s part; he defected partly out of fear of Saddam and Uday, but also through his own desire for power. He had gleefully embezzled UN money and mercilessly executed a man simply for being tortured by Uday.
• Rather tragically it did explain why some Iraqis, in this case Raghad, tolerated Saddam’s oppression. She claimed his methods were to “keep the country together” because of the ‘tribes’ of Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the middle and the Shi’as in the south.
What was bad about it?
• The efforts to demonstrate the full character of Saddam Hussein were quite weak. The only time he was shown as anything other than a cruel dictator was in the company of his grandchildren so all that was offered was pretty much a coin, with tails being the proud grin of a grandfather and heads being the lifeless faces of anyone who dared show a glimmer of dissent.
• The highly episodic nature meant there was a sense of narrative dislocation and ultimately seemed to segue in to one Hussein atrocity followed by another, equally shared out between father and eldest son as if criminals dividing up loot after a successful Tarantino-esque heist. And the scene when Uday is left with blood spattered on his face after his machine gun attack was a little too luridly illustrative.