I have been watching a few non-Bond, Roger Moore Films recently. Having reviewed the ‘average’ Escape To Athena I set my sights on cult favourite North Sea Hijack. A film shown by UK network television regularly during the mid-80’ through to the 90s’. Having rented the ‘88 Films’ presentation from Cinema Paradiso, I sat down to find out
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who carved out an illustrious career directing Westerns and a bunch of run of the mill adventure films. McLaglen, who was coming off the back of a success with the film ‘The Wild Geese’ and a mediocre performing film ‘Breakthrough’, opted to direct the film which is an adaption of the novel ‘Esther, Ruth & Jennifer’ written by Jack Davies.
North Sea Hijack or ‘ffolkes’ as it is otherwise known to American audiences was written and filmed during the height of IRA terrorist atrocities. This was a time when the modern terrorist hijack genre had not yet become a thing. No Steven Segal in Under Siege, no Die Hard, in fact the novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ (the book Die Hard is based on) was still being written when this film went into production. In that sense you could say that this film is the precursor to the modern action film.
North Sea Hijack is quite a simple idea. An expert strategist and anti-terror expert, Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (genius name and it’s Roger Moore wearing a ‘Where’s Wally’ hat) is asked by Lloyds of London to work out ways in which a terrorist group may hijack an oil rig, and then work out more ways in how to defeat them. Low and behold a few months later a small group of get rich quick terrorists led by Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins AKA Norman Bates, in a turtleneck) hijack a North Sea Oil Rig supply ship called Esther. Their grand plan is to place explosives on a couple of oil rigs called Ruth and Jennifer and extort the British government into paying them 25 million pounds. If the government doesn’t pay up, guess what, lead psycho Kramer will press the button destroying the oil rigs and take the British economy with it. Keeping the Esther crew hostage, Kramer threatens to blow up the ship if anyone sets foot on the boat. The government, not liking being held to ransom reluctantly turn to ffolkes to help sort this out. ffolkes sets about using his considerable brain power to very slowly and methodically put into action a plan that involves makeshift scaffolding, his own bunch of mercenaries – The ffolkes Fusiliers, the old pistol hidden in the hat trick, and the synchronisation of watches to outwit the terrorists and save the day.
As McLaglen’s North Sea Hijack is centred around ffolkes and his actions, the film has a deliberate slow pace to its proceedings, this is not the out and out action film that you might expect, and some might even find it a touch boring as a result. In fact, the final act simply boils down to an act of subterfuge and a single shot. McLaglen attempts to build in some tension with the ‘the bad guy might bush the button while dying’ trope but overall, it’s a criminal underuse of talent.
What makes this film so interesting to watch and has helped it to find a cult status are the characters, dialogue and the comedy touches,
On one side you have ffolkes, a cantankerous man with a severe disdain of women and an unhealthy obsession with cats. His personality verges on what we would now term as autistic spectrum, basically he is correct and everyone else is not. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. His dialogue is always short and when he isn’t berating women, he is correcting anyone else who is talking to him.
Lead terrorist Kramer is a man on a mission, who does not care who he kills and when, his sole focus is the extortion attempt and getting his hands on the 25 million. So, you have to wonder why his terrorist cell members have stuck with him on this adventure, as Kramer has a habit of dropping bodies into the ocean.
The crew, who are captured, make various attempts to escape and overthrow their captors, only to be thwarted at every turn by Kramer. One of the crew is female, Sanna played by Lea Brodie, and disappointingly this leads to the inclusion of jokes about Sana looking like a boy and a scene where she suffers attempted abuse by a dominating man. This all feels a bit misguided viewing though today’s lens but back in the early 80s it wasn’t very shocking
Admiral Brinsden provides the stoic stiff upper lip of the proceedings defaulting to ffolkes instructions with little protest.
Jokes about Sana looking like a boy aside, McLaglen saw fit to inject humour throughout the film, mostly centred around the absurdity of what ffolkes is saying but also making him wear a bright red wetsuit when everyone else is wearing black
The script was also forward thinking as Jack Davies’ original story calls for a female Prime Minister. Whilst that seems perfectly normal now, at start of filming in the late 70’s Margaret Thatcher had not yet become prime minister.
Allan Foenander (who cast a few low budget TV movies and a couple of series) oversaw casting and pulled in big names for this film – Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Faith Brook, Lea Brodie to name a few.
ffolkes : I like cats, and I don’t like people who don’t.
Somehow in between The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Roger Moore fitted in North Sea Hijack. ffolkes as a character is a stark contrast to Moore’s version of Bond; it’s as if Moore deliberately chose to play in a different sandbox just to let off a little steam. Bond likes a glass of Martini, ffolkes likes to drink straight from the bottle, Bond likes to seduce women ffolkes hates women (after being made to wear his 5 sisters hand me down clothes!) Moore’s Bond tends to rely on others for support while ffolkes superior intellect means he expects support from no one. ffolkes demands the best and settles for nothing less, as shown by this piece of dialogue :
ffolkes : Timing underwater. Speed Underwater. That is what half our assignments are about. Harris! Are you listening to me?
Harris : Yes sir.
ffolkes : Then bloody well well look at me! Yesterday, ONE man completed the exercise precisely on time. ME! [Produces a hand grenade from his bag]
ffolkes : Today, you will ALL complete the exercise precisely on time.
Moore is in fine form exploring all these alternative character traits. Sporting a fisherman’s beard, a silly stripy hat and dressing like Sherlock Holmes seemingly giving much thought to the grumpy man ffolkes has become. He plays off the other cast members well and the famous Roger Moore eyebrow rise makes an appearance. In fact, it’s his facial expressions such as the narrowing of his eyes when getting uptight, alongside his tone of dialogue delivery that makes the character so good. Overall Moore’s performance is an unexpected tour de force of embodying a new character
Lou Kramer : I still… don’t like your face.
Perkins had a brilliant career, with over 60 credits to his name, best known for the lead in Psycho, he also landed other iconic roles such as Javert in Les Mis and Dr Alex Durant in the brilliant Black Hole. In North Sea Hijack, Perkins plays a terrorist with a plan called Lou Kramer. Perkins is believable as Kramer a short tempered and highly motivated terrorist. He initially appears one dimensional and emotionless, but as the film continues Kramer starts to reveal his character weakness. As soon as his plan starts to unravel Kramer lacks the ability to adjust and starts becoming increasingly vindictive. His is mental stability is questionable, as his simply dispatches anyone who stands in his way. This is no hammed-up performance from Perkins, instead it’s a considered performance that equally matches what Moore is bringing to ffolkes. Its just a shame that other than standing in the bridge trying to conduct his plan, Perkins gets little else to do. His final showdown scene is over in seconds and is somewhat of an anti-climax. This is not Perkins fault, it’s just the direction and script he had to work with.
Admiral Brindsen : Cigarette, Kramer?
James Mason probably the best actor never to have won an Oscar. By 1980 Mason’s list of credits was already extensive with titles like ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’ and ‘Voyage of the Damned’. In North Sea Hijack, Mason is cast as Admiral Brinsden, a stoic crusty admiral who doesn’t have much patience with ffolkes. Mason is well cast as the Admiral, but it does seem like this is a part he could play with truly little effort. His raison d’être seems to simply be to question ffolkes and eventually go along with whatever elaborate plan ffolkes comes up with. It’s hardly a character that stretches Masons excellent ability as an actor.
Welsh composer Michael J. Lewis scored North Sea Hijack. As it’s a late 1970’s early 80’s film, the score has a more orchestral tone, Lewis’ score does seem a little action film generic, but the music keeps in tone with the movie and is inoffensive. It’s interesting that within a few years of the release of North Sea Hijack, Lewis moved to the USA to try his hand at American movies, culminating in 1994’s ‘Deadly Target’.
The 88films Blu-ray I watched is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0. So, no Atmos remaster, but in truth it doesn’t need it. Dialogue is crisp and clear and keeping to a simple stereo soundtrack helps the viewer concentrate on the dialogue heavy film, with only a few shots that would benefit from a more technical sound mix.
For a film that is set in the North Sea, you may be surprised to find out that the cast never actually reached the North Sea. A couple of uncredited model supervisors Tony Dunsterville and Tad Krzanowski oversaw the creation of some truly superb model oil rigs that were so good Tony Imi (cinematographer) was able to use close shots of the rigs that still hold up today. This wouldn’t be an Andrew V. McLaglen film without a few explosions and of course we get some great shots of various explosions during the course of the film.
Tony Imi is director of photography. Imi’s skill as a cinematographer lies in his ability to be creative with lighting a scene and adapting his approach to different directors. The collaboration worked well on North Sea Hijack which required technical interior shots, as well as the replication of deep sea activities.
I watched the film on an 88 film Blu-ray release. It was presented in 1080p in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The image is sharp, relatively grain free and colourful. Whilst it is clear the film hasn’t had much mastering, it’s an enjoyable presentation.
North Sea Hijack was a film that in the 1980’s was very BBC friendly. It is an action film with little action, stars a raft of actors that were household names and had the type of misogynistic dialogue that would keep the men of the household entertained. The plot is easy to follow and it’s not a stretch to think the plot is grounded in some sort of reality of what could happen, Nowadays it hardly appears in TV schedules but has found new life as a cult classic. Its dialogue is seen as daring rather than offending, and like it or not it’s a film that offers a certain amount of humour while the viewer thinks about how they got away with it at the time. There is still a lot of fun to be had watching Moore in an anti-bond turn downing bottles of whiskey and loving cats more than he loves life. The fact that Moore went on to star in two more films for McLaglen after this, showed how much respect he had for the director. So if you are on the mood for an absurdly silly prototype Die Hard type film look no further than North Sea Hijack.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
A Meat and Potatoes Movie - Interview with Actor Jeremy Clyde
North Atlantic High Jinks - Interview with Actor David Wood
The Ffall Guy - Interview with Stuntman Dinny Powell
Rigging the Explosives - Interview with Special Effect Supervisor John Richardson
Alternative “ffolkes” Title Sequence
Reversible sleeve with alternative artwork
TV📺2/6/90 BBC1 12.30:Grandstand 5.5:News 5.20:Stay Tooned! 5.45:The Flying Doctors 6.30:That's Showbusiness 7.0:Takeover Bid 7.30:Opportunity Knocks Final 8.30:Film - North Sea Hijack 10.5:Opportunity Knocks Your Verdict 10.40:News 11.0:Paramount City pic.twitter.com/d9s8BpEnyr— Graeme Wood (@woodg31) June 2, 2022