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Thursday, December 7th, 2023  

House of Saddam


Nov 01, 2008 Year End 2008 - Best of 2008
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Dictators are often depicted in far-reaching reductions that border on caricature. HBO and BBC’s ambitious four-part dramatization of Saddam Hussein’s life skirts artificial characterizations. The whole of the Iraqi dictator’s time in power is cast in the dramatic light of a gangster film drawn out to Shakespearean proportions. The miniseries begins in 1979, when Saddam captured the presidency in a blood-spattered coup, and ends with his 2006 execution by hanging. Since this is barely two years after the former Iraqi president’s death, Alex Holmes’ project is brave and daunting. It also benefits from being the first dramatic inspection of Saddam’s life.

Holmes, the creator of BAFTA-winning docudrama Dunkirk, crafts a detailed but dramatically taut script that only flags in its penultimate chapter. Israeli actor Igal Naor (Munich) portrays the bellicose dictator with subtlety and towering moments of stentorian coldness. What drives his political machinations are two polar opposites: traitors and family loyalty. Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog), who plays Saddam’s first wife, Sajida, and Philip Arditti, who plays Saddam’s sadistic eldest son, Uday, both give heart-breaking performances, but pale in comparison to Naor’s towering performance. From glass elevators in his palace to ant-ridden farmhouses in Tikrit, Saddam’s life achieves a multi-faceted story arc. While the truncated epilogue is jarring, House is by and large a riveting historical drama. (

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