Wednesday, August 20, 2008

House of Saddam

House of Saddam is a four episodes TV drama that charts the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein from 1979 to 2003. A co-production between BBC Television and HBO films, the series began on Wednesday 30th July on BBC Two in four parts. I watched episode one of the show, till now, and first impression is having actors with comics-like facial resemblance to the real persons was deliberate - Saddam was much more skinnier that Yigal Naor when he was vice president - Saddam started to gain weight during the Iraq-Iran war. This also include all other characters in the entire show, such as a teenager look-alike Barzan (Saddam half brother), a plumpy funny Ali Hasan Al Majid, and a big headed gloomy-faced Tariq Aziz. Having a handsome Hussain Kamel Al Majid (played by whom I consider a genies and brilliant young Egyptian actor Amr Waked) can prove more to this formula.

Another thing I was not comfortable with while watching the first episode is the way English was spoken: 99% of the actors speaks English with Iraqi or middle eastern accent (including the same typical grammatical mistakes used), with Arabic words thrown here and there in every sentence, such as habeebty (beloved one for a woman) or Ammo (uncle). It is like I am hearing Ahmed Chalabi speaking during an interview with CNN or BBC.

The substance of historic material chosen for such a drama work intended for TV viewers is new, which is good to shed light on some details that only known to book readers or to an Iraqi who used to be close or attached personally to these events! Yet, there were many changes to the real events. I don't know if such deviations were made to inject some more dramatic aspect to the show, or the writer was referring to false references! For example, Adnan Khairalla, Saddam's brother-in-law, was not Iraq's minister of defense in late 1970's. In addition, Hamdani (in real, his name was Adnan Al Hamdani) was among other Iraqi politicians who have been detained and executed collectively after the notorious revolutionary command council meeting in July 1979. He was not shot in the head by Saddam himself at the latter's house as we saw it in the show.

As I said, there are some strong details close to reality about the life of Saddam and people around him, such as the powerful personality of Saddam's mother - I don't know if she went that far of being personally interfering in her son's choices of selecting loyal people around him, though! In addition, the use of advanced technology and people resources on many shots were perfectly recruited - the use of live pictures of Saddam in different places merged with the help of computer effects of that of "the new Saddam among the public".

I laughed big at a scene from the show when Saddam and his son were standing at the top of a hill, in presumably the town of Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam. He was looking with sharp eyes in to the horizon, where a big circled green spot of palms stretched an area down the valley in the middle of the yellow rocky desert. Then he starts telling his son about the glory of Iraq:

"look around, Uday, look around! This is the land between two rivers. The first armies and empires were found here. Do you know that the first law was written here? This is the cradle of civilizations. We are lucky Uday..." But young Uday was distracted by something, and looked bored. He was continiousely moving his head up and around, staring at the emptiness of the high hills surrounding. There comes a pause, silence, with Saddam like lost in his emperial thoughts until Uday turns his head to his father's side and asks with obvious stupidity and wonder on his face:

"Papa? I am hot"

Saddam face turns from that of cogitation to fury when his eyes set on his son. With disgust and hidden rage he asks Uday: "have you heard a word I said?" His rage was clearer when his voice became much louder "... of course you feel hot... we are in the desert... drink some water..." Saddam then walks dissappointed passing his son with large steps, and in Arabic he curses Uday saying "God damn you, and that who gave birth to you" (انعل ابوك لابو اللي بزرك) . He snaps at Uday to follow him and continue "I wished I brought Qusay with me instead".

I see this show as a nice attempt to cover the political rise and fall of a ruthless dictator like Saddam, but for me (and many others I talked to) it is an imperfect work. I didn't watch the followup to the series (episodes 2,3 and 4), but covering more than two decades of brutal tyranny with only four episodes would also mark this work as imperfect. They managed to show how cold-blooded this man used to be, it has been reflected by the main actor excellently, but crafting such a story into a TV drama deserves more than that, and would really be much better if more attention to other small details and segments, especially that there was an obvious and hard effort on digging down massive and detailed historic events clearly taken from people lived within that period or government documentation and footage's (like of Iraq-Iran war and Saddam TV propeganda). I don't believe stories about the makers of the series getting in touch indirectly from Saddam while he was in US custody, or through the lawyers of Tariq Aziz, according to some media sources!


aNarki-13 said...

then what about this rumor i heard about a syrian series regarding the same subject matter?

MixMax said...

I think you mean that one MBC TV was planning to sponsor? This project, according to news I read, was doomed, because of politics (as usual) and the way many in the Arab world sees Saddam with different eyes: some considered him as a hero who stood up to the US, others saw him an agent who served the interests of the US; others saw him as the brutal dictator who massacred his own people for more than two decades...etc

anarki-13, where have you been all this time? I am glad to hear from you again.

Mr.Anonymous said...

is this Amr Wakid ?

Anonymous said...

I love "House of Saddam". I love the actors. I think the accents are great. It looks and sounds real. I forget I am watching a drama, and not a real documentary. I recommend this show to all my friends.