Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Coup 53

Director – Taghi Amirani – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 120m


In cinemas from Friday, August 21st

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. Film available to view at

A documentary begun in 2009 interviewing many people who died before the film’s completion some ten years later, this covers the 1953 coup in Iran backed by President Eisenhower in the US and Prime Minister Churchill in the UK which replaced Iran’s democratically elected, left-wing Prime Minister Mossadegh with the Shah. The UK has never officially acknowledged its role in this coup.

Amirani’s researches lead him to a basement of documents held by Mossadech’s grandson in Paris comprising archive material from the Granada TV 1985 End Of Empire documentary series, for which he is gets access to the rushes from the BFI. Iran was included because it had been controlled by British interests for so long (because of its oil reserves). Amirani’s editor, helping pull all this together, is the legendary Walter Murch (Gimme Shelter / 1970, The Conversation / 1974, Apocalypse Now / 1979, The English Patient / 1996).

The name which keeps coming up in Amirani’s research is that of Norman Darbyshire who reportedly asked for his interview footage to be removed from the film following a pre-transmission screening at the BBC. Darbyshire was the British undercover man who orchestrated the coup. Footage of Darbyshire can’t be found, so Amirani films actor Ralph Fiennes reading the transcripts as a visual substitute. The actual footage shot of him had still not resurfaced by the time of this documentary’s completion.

In the film’s final third, the mix of taking heads, archive footage and stills is augmented by Martyn Pick’s animation representing footage of events leading up to and during both the failed and the successful 1953 Iran coup attempts. Animation was used because no actual footage existed of the moving images required. Pick’s team achieve extraordinary results which at once look like moving oil paintings and make the viewer feel as if they’re present. The medium is also briefly deployed for the 1967 ambulance journey of Mossadegh’s body to its final resting place beneath his Iranian exile home.

Although the animation here has greater immediacy than the more reflective material created for Camp 14 – Total Control Zone, the medium’s use in both films allows for the presentation of essential moving images which could not otherwise grace the screen.

With its re-presenting a suppressed and forgotten chapter of British colonial history this is a must see work. Towards the end, Amirani briefly throws in a chilling aside: a montage of boxes from the US National Security Archive labelled with the names of an ever-increasing number of US-backed regime changes that have occurred since. This suggests that once the US had realised regime change was a viable course of action, the country successfully pursued it again and again and again. That makes the film something far more pertinent and chilling than the compelling and fascinating history lesson it already is.

Coup 53 is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, August 21st.

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. Film available to view at


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