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Coup 53 at Aldeburgh, with Ralph Fiennes

Michael and I arrived just in time to sample a few delicious canapes and down a glass of red, as well as secure a seat in the 3rd row (next to a girl at the end who left and returned 3 times during the film breaking glasses on the way – all very odd).

Ralph introduced the film by accentuating the editor Walter Murch, leaving us to make our own views. He would return at the end. At this stage we didn’t know how he would appear in a documentary.

Coup 53 is a 2019 documentary about the 1953 Iranian coup, in which Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was removed by the shenanigans of CIA/MI6 and the Shah reinstalled. It centered around Iran’s oil and who got to control and benefit from it. (repeated in Iraq?) BP was at the heart of this story. Iran’s oil had been monopolised and developed by the UK/BP (1909) and the UK position strengthened during WW2. Post war owernership was challenged by Iranians Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, a veteran democrat,  a fine man, incoruptable, and proudly Iranian, who successfully nationalised it. The UK, depended on the oil money for a labour government, first took  retaliatory action to European and Netherlands courts.  Both courts ruled in favour of Iran. With this failure came direct action.

The detective work in the film – part of the intriguing narrative – was the MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire, who in an early script for film made later (End of Empire) admitted to plotting the coup (code named “Operation Ajax”) together with the CIA. Always denied by MI6 and the British to this day never admitted to the complicity, unlike the US. Mysteriously this interview never came out in the final End of Empire film.

This 2019 film, directed and narrated by  Taghi Amirani, took the cut and past script and tried to piece the jigsaw of who was Norman Darbyshire, and why he was cut out. They got Ralph Fiennes to read the transcript of the interview (later we hear from Fiennes that he read from a script near a camera). The idea of Fiennes was from Walter Murch the editor who worked on The English Patient with Fiennes.

The clips of diplomats and BP executives was excruciating for their overt arrogance. Richard Amary: No one took him seriously. He appeared as a demagogue. His appearance didn’t strike one as being the sort of person who was a prime minister… I don’t mean he didn’t wear striped trousers, in fact he always wore pajamas, and that was a rather odd custume for a future prime minister.’
‘We would call him dotty.  He wasn’t in Iranian eyes
Sir Eric Drake – in charge of Anglo Iranian oil / BP

It was such a successful and relatively bloodless coup, that the Americans said, let’s do this again, which they did in El Salvador and a list followed that boggled the mind.

Mohammad Mossadegh was imprisoned – without trial – first in solitary confinement, then in an isolated house, that bizarrely he was buried in – they dug up the dining room floor and put him beneath it. For such a cultivated, intelligent and principled man, his confinement meant he lost interest in living.

As one of the commentators said at the end – just imagine it, had Mohammad Mossadegh been left in peace to rule Iran, Iran democratised, how would the position of the middle east be today? A very different dynamic. The consequences of first the Shah, then the 1979 revolt by the Ayatollah Khomeini (or as Willi Rushton used to say Ay-a-told-ya Kho many times do I have to tell you how to spell it) and now today. Such interferrence for short term gain.

Diana Quick did a quick run through of all Fiennes  films (Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Schindler’s List, The English Patient, Onegin, Sunshine The Constant Gardener, Coriolanus, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Not much talk of Coup 53, but great integrity and modesty in all Fiennes answers. His next film is ‘The Dig’ about Sutton Hoo excavations.

Finally questions from the floor were invited – and not the first but the 2nd questioner was a woman who said: I went out to Tehran to work with Norman Darbyshire. His wife had died in a car crash, and he had 6 children to care for. I found the film absolutely fascinating.’

As we did her. A crowd circled around her after the film. Did Fiennes meet her too?Who knows, we returned along the A12 buzzing with the film, exchanging and exploring.




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