‘Coup 53’ – Film Review – THN

A documentary focused on the 1953 Iranian coup d’état.

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The events that led to the 1953 Iranian coup d’état are laid bare in Taghi Amirani’s documentary, which seeks to expose those pulling the strings behind the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. It is an event in Iran’s history which is often cited as being the catalyst for the development of the country across the rest of the 20th Century and into the modern era. Coup 53 aims to dramatise the events through careful research, gathering together the missing pieces of information to construct the clearest picture possible of what occurred during the coup and the planning behind it. 

Amirani’s film is very much one of two halves. The first half involves his own personal efforts to put the jigsaw together of who exactly was behind the planning of the coup that sought to strengthen the monarchical power of the Shah. While the US government has confirmed its involvement in the planning of the coup in order to protect their own interest in Iranian oil, the British government still has the full details of their involvement under lock and key. The reality of the situation that Amirani uncovers is that this coup was very much the work of a CIA and MI6 joint operation, and one key thread of string allows Amirani to use his film to call the British government into account. 

This key thread arrives in the form of a former MI6 agent called Derbyshire. Upon the discovery of a transcript of an interview conducted with Derbyshire for an ITV documentary series in the 80’s, Amirani finds evidence of an agent directly admitting that the British Secret Service was very instrumental in the planning of the coup. No recorded interview exists of Derbyshire, so in order to bring this startling transcript to life, Amirani does the next best thing: he casts Ralph Fiennes to play Derbyshire. With his key piece of the puzzle reincorporated into the story of the coup, important details are able to be told for the first time, as the second half of the film moves from Amirani’s attempts to gather information into a more straightforward chronicle of the events. 

Full review over at THN, originally published September 15th 2020.

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