The Final Option
“Who Dares Wins” is the motto of Britain’s SAS (Special Air Services), and the original title of the 1982 political thriller The Final Option, in which the anti-terrorist squad foils the plans of a fictitious group of nuclear disarmament radicals called The People’s Lobby. Directed by Ian Sharp, the film stars Lewis Collins as Peter Skellen, an SAS Captain (as well as loving husband and father) who infiltrates the terrorists by seducing their American leader, Frankie Leith (Judy Davis). Skellen gives himself a convincing cover: when two international officers visit Britain for training, he brutalizes them and quits the force when faced with demotion. Frankie believes his story and recruits him as her lover and strategist for her latest operation, in which she and her followers are to take a group of American dignitaries hostage at the United States Embassy: the terrorists feel that the only way to prevent the manufacturing of nuclear weapons is to force the British government to detonate one on a Scottish base and televise it for the entire world to see.
Frankie’s underlings come to suspect that Skellen is still working for the SAS, but she remains uncertain. As insurance, the terrorists take Skellen’s wife and daughter hostage at his home before the final act’s embassy takeover. Once the diplomats are captured at the American ambassador’s residence, Skellen secretly coordinates a counterstrike with his men on the outside—the commandos storm the embassy and take out the radicals. Frankie and Skellen both hesitate when faced with the opportunity to shoot each other, and Frankie is gunned down by one of the soldiers before she can pull the trigger. A separate SAS team rescues Skellen’s family from their captors.
Produced by Euan Lloyd (The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves), the film was inspired by the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London, in which the SAS were shown rescuing hostages live on British television. Although the human element of the film lies in Skellen’s affair with Frankie, their attraction for one another remains an enigma. Writer Reginald Rose, working from James Follett’s novel The Tiptoe Boys, paints Skellen as a suave, James Bond-like hero (Lewis Collins was considered as a replacement 007 for Roger Moore) who shows little if any remorse over cheating on his wife. His hesitation in killing Frankie suggests that he has developed feelings for her—this despite his loathing of her agenda. Frankie, portrayed as a misguided villain, loves Skellen to the point where she is willing to jeopardize her cause by having him around—but the reason is never made clear, outside of the sexual heat they generate. Frankie’s character and The People’s Lobby were singled out by many of the film’s negative reviews—the notion of a left-wing terrorist organization willing to set off a nuclear bomb in order to promote peace did not sit well with critics or audiences and the film was a financial flop. The movie’s graphically depicted violence was considered unearned at the service of such an unlikely scenario, although fans continue to appreciate its realistic portrayal of the SAS in action.
The Final Option was one of the last films scored by Roy Budd (1947–1993), the gifted pianist/composer/arranger who burst upon the British jazz scene in the 1960s as a child prodigy. His star turned bright in cinema in the 1970s, dimmed somewhat in the 1980s as he pursued other interests, and was prematurely extinguished when he died from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 47. Budd’s spare but memorable score to Get Carter (1971) launched him as a major force for contemporary crime thrillers—he seemed to effortlessly carry his own suitcase full of big band, pop-rock tricks that paid homage to Lalo Schifrin, Jerry Goldsmith, Quincy Jones, et al. In spite of the influences, Budd’s music possessed an identifiable signature: deep, reverberant orchestration with transparent strings and overwhelming brass.
In the late 1970s Budd made an impression with tuneful military scores for films such as The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980). These were produced by Euan Lloyd (for whom Budd also scored 1971’s Catlow and 1975’s Paper Tiger) so it was logical that Budd would be hired to score The Final Option. Although The Final Option is also a military film, its contemporary setting resulted in a score more akin to Budd’s “crime” work, with a pulsating, funk/jazz main theme that captures the cool of the SAS. The score’s signature piece is a propulsive groove in which a slick, descending motive unfolds over a tonic pedal with a relentless mixture of electronics and percussion. The agitated, scurrying nature of the electronics throughout the score suits the radicals as they become increasingly unhinged—the terrorists are also characterized with a rising four-note motive, contrasting with the ever-sinking motion of the SAS material. Budd’s one intimate idea is a lonely piano melody that Frankie shares with Skellen, and though it only appears in the film once, it establishes an emotional connection between the two characters.
Budd was not the only composer on The Final Option. Brothers Jerry and Marc Donahue were hired to create the film’s anti-nuclear source music, including the rock anthem “Right on Time” (which they perform on screen at a concert sponsored by the terrorists). The composers also contributed to the underscore with a warm melody for Skellen’s family life called “Jenny’s Theme,” as well as a haunting rock-climbing cue (“Welsh Mountains”) heard near the beginning of the film.
FSM’s release of The Final Option represents the score’s debut on CD, although it was issued on two separate LPs—with slightly different content—at the time of the film’s release: in the U.S. as Varèse Sarabande STV 81188 under the film’s American title, and in France on Milan A199 as Commando (Who Dares Wins). This premiere CD has been mastered from the Varèse Sarabande ¼″ stereo album tapes—which fortunately included the tracks unique to the Milan LP on the end as outtakes.
By and large, the FSM program follows the Milan sequence, adding the Donahues’ composition “Jenny’s Theme Im” which appeared only on the Varèse Sarabande LP. (The source cues “Blues for the Best” and “Straight Ahead Blues” were unique to the Milan LP.) The CD omits the track that the Varèse LP called “Hi-Jack, Part I” as it was merely a repetition of material otherwise contained on the two “Hi-Jack” selections (track 24 and 27). Finally, the CD presents “Catch or Be Caught” and “Reds Under the Beds” as they were edited for the Varèse LP; the Milan LP relocated the cue 3M10A from the beginning of “Reds Under the Beds” to the end of “Catch or Be Caught” (see track commentary below).
Reel and part numbers are provided in the following commentary. These utilize the nomenclature of the film’s legal cue sheet, which is slightly different from the standard format. Usually, for example, 7M3 would ordinarily mean the third piece of music heard in the film’s seventh reel. Here, 7M23 would refer to the 23rd piece of music in the film overall, which happens to be heard in reel seven of the film.
- 16. Who Dares Wins (12M35 End Titles)
- The end titles of the film play out to a throbbing rendition of the SAS theme for brass, electronics and percussion. Piano jazz riffing seeps into the second half of the piece, offering relief from the horrific violence of the concluding shootout. This piece is slightly edited down in the picture.
- 17. Welsh Mountains (1M6 Climbing in Wales—Jerry and Marc Donahue)
- Two visiting international officers, American Hagen (Bob Sherman) and German Freund (Albert Fortell), are flown to Wales for an SAS training exercise. They are given an hour’s head start to reach the top of a far-off mountain before a team led by Capt. Peter Skellen (Lewis Collins). As the trainees embark toward their destination, the score enhances the expansive scenery and evokes the gradual passage of time with chordal synthesized writing over a thick, ominous pedal. The cue concludes as Hagen and Freund arrive at the mountaintop to find Skellen and his men casually awaiting them.
- 18. Jenny’s Theme II (2M7 Skellen’s Mews—Jerry and Marc Donahue)
- Before Skellen infiltrates the leftist organization The People’s Lobby, he goes home to visit his wife, Jenny (Rosalind Lloyd), and baby daughter, Samantha (Briony Elliott). Jenny is worried about his mission and he assures her that it is not serious. Their farewell dinner is underscored with a tender diatonic tune for flute and synthesizer provided by Jerry and Marc Donahue.
- 19. SAS or Nothing
- Two of Budd’s score cues are combined in this track, the latter featuring the dynamic main theme. “Skellen into Barn” (7M19C, 0:00–1:03) advances to later in the film as terrorists Mac (Mark Ryan) and Helga (Ingrid Pitt) drop off Skellen at a barn hideout, the heart of the People’s Lobby operation. Portentous low strings and harp give way to the rising “terrorist” figure and a dire rendition of the SAS melody as Skellen takes in his surroundings. The radicals have hijacked a bus carrying the military band for a U.S. Embassy banquet and are planning to pass themselves off as musicians in order to crash the party; Frankie, still unsure of Skellen’s loyalty, instructs him to put on a band uniform. A brief outburst from brass and percussion marks a hard cut to SAS Headquarters.
- “SAS Arrive” (11M31, 1:04-3:04) is heard at the climax of the film, its pulse accompanying the SAS commando helicopters en route to the embassy where the American hostages are being held. This material is interspersed with light percussive interludes and quiet throbbing for cuts to the interior of the embassy as the terrorists become more and more unnerved. The choppers arrive at the estate and the SAS descend onto the roof via ropes, unbeknownst to the radicals.
- 20. American Medley
- (2M8 Mime Dance Black Horse Club—Jerry and Marc Donahue) To begin his infiltration of the terrorists, Skellen attends a radical nightclub act at the Black Horse club. Monstrous-looking Americans engage in a freakish dance, fighting over a warhead, played in silver attire and makeup by Frankie (Judy Davis), the leader of the organization. The routine is set to an increasingly hideous mash-up of American standards: “Yankee Doodle,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
- 21. Blues for the Best (11M23 Radio Sentimental)
- To ensure Skellen’s participation in the embassy takeover, Mac and Helga invade his home and hold Jenny and Samantha hostage. The SAS take up residence next door and drill through an adjoining wall to set up a surveillance camera. This laid-back jazz piece is the second of two source cues heard on the radio as the SAS prepare to detonate an explosion so that they can burst into the room and kill the terrorists.
- 22. A Smile You Can’t Resist (3M10B Love Scene)
- This cue follows “American Medley” (track 20) in the film, after Skellen seduces Frankie at the Black Horse club. A forlorn piece for piano, vibes and strings underscores their post-lovemaking conversation at her loft. The cue fades out once he finishes feeding her his cover story and they proceed to argue over the merit of her cause. Budd’s tender piano cue is emblematic of love themes of the period by him and other composers such as Jerry Goldsmith.
- 23. Right on Time (5M16 Right on Time—Jerry and Marc Donahue)
- Frankie and Skellen attend a rock concert sponsored by The People’s Lobby. The band, “Metamorphosis,” performs the wailing rock song “Right on Time,” featuring such lyrics as “You came right on time! Crush those nukes, doin’ fine!” Once the song is finished, a fake riot is staged to generate sympathy for the radical cause. (The composers, Jerry and Marc Donahue, appear on screen as members of the band.)
- 24. Hi-Jack, Pt. I (7M19 Lead Up to Bus Hijack)
- An incessant, maniacal electronic pattern plays through Frankie’s final preparations for the bus hijacking. The sequence is interspersed with scenes of Skellen searching for Frankie at her apartment—where Budd slips in a fleeting statement of the piano theme—and at the SAS headquarters. The score teases with the “terrorist” figure as Frankie and fellow radical Rod (John Duttine) ride out on horseback to intercept the bus. An accented brass chord and the introduction of kick drum increase tension on the first shot of the vehicle heading for the embassy. A rhythmically augmented version of the terrorist figure seeps into the texture as a group of radicals wait in a parked car to storm the bus. Frankie and Rod ride out into the middle of the road and nearly cause the bus to crash—the brass trill that denotes this was dropped from the film.
- 25. Jenny’s Theme I (Jerry and Marc Donahue)
- This alternate arrangement of Jenny’s theme does not appear in the movie. It spotlights guitar in support of flute and features a light percussion backdrop.
- 26. Straight Ahead Blues (10M24 Radio Bebop)
- This up-tempo improvisatory jazz piece is the first source cue that the SAS use to drown out the noise of their drilling through Skellens’ wall (the second is the aforementioned “Blues for the Best,” track 21).
- 27. Hi-Jack, Pt. II
- Three suspense/action cues are grouped in this track, following the action from track 24 as the terrorists’ plan continues:
- “Barn Dead Brought In” (7M19B, 0:00–1:00) is heard in the film after “Skellen into Barn” (from “SAS or Nothing,” track 19). The main theme, a jittery synth ostinato and accented brass chords underscore the terrorists arriving at the barn and unloading their hostages, both alive and dead, from the bus.
- Disguised as musicians, Skellen and the terrorists board the bus and head for the U.S. Embassy. “Bus Ride to Mews Hostages” (8M20, 1:01–1:42) plays through their trip, adding low-end electronic splatter to the preceding synth texture as well as a suave flute passage for Skellen maintaining his cool amongst the radicals. Sparse percussion and ethereal string and harp chords mark a brief scene in which Mac and Helga arrive outside Skellen’s apartment and find an SAS officer standing vigil.
- “Ext. Embassy to Guard Shot” (8M20B, 1:43–3:22) unfolds as the terrorists are admitted into the residence of the American ambassador (Don Fellows). As they are escorted through the mansion, the score builds tension over its synthesizer/percussion foundation with a statement of the rising “Terrorist” figure, along with seething muted brass and aleatoric flute writing. The cue crescendos and vanishes just before Rod shoots a guard who realizes that the terrorists are not musicians.
- 28. Catch or Be Caught
- Two more Budd cues offer dramatic strains from earlier in the film, when Skellen (trying to keep his cover while infiltrating the terrorists) twice dodges a tail:
- The skittish synth ostinato of “Mac Follows Skellen” (4M12, 0:00–0:41) begins as Skellen becomes aware that Mac is tailing him around town. The undercover agent makes a break for it with Mac in pursuit, and the score follows with an outburst from the SAS theme, dressed with frantic brass runs. The writing dies down with a coy hemiola figure for flute and vibes over a funk bass line as Skellen catches a ferry and loses Mac.
- “Skellen Gives Mac the Slip” (6M17B, 0:42–1:07) underscores a later sequence in which Mac follows Skellen onto a bus. Skellen dives off the vehicle and dashes through traffic, the score accompanying his escape with an accelerated rendition of the SAS theme and a reprisal of the hemiola figure from “Mac Follows Skellen.” Skellen once again evades his pursuer and boards another bus.
- 29. Nature of the Beast
- This track compiles three or possibly two dramatic cues—the opening 0:36 of pulsating electronics and hint of the SAS tune do not appear in the film.
- For “SAS Barracks” (1M5, 0:37–1:41) a pure setting of the main theme underscores Hagen and Freund arriving at SAS headquarters early in the film, where various training exercises are underway.
- Once the commandos wipe out the terrorists at the film’s conclusion, Skellen and his men are flown on helicopters from the U.S. Embassy to the accompaniment of a rousing, brassy rendition of the main theme (“SAS Depart,” 12M34, 1:42–2:29).
- 30. Reds Under Beds
- A brief, unused version of Frankie’s theme gives way to “Arrival at Frankie’s Flat” (3M10A, 0:31–1:04), a melancholic piece for piano, woodwinds and strings that plays as Frankie takes Skellen into her flat after their initial encounter at the Black Horse club.
- “Red Flag” (12M34B, 1:05–1:40) underscores the film’s concluding revelation that a member of the British government funded the terrorist takeover; a chillingly optimistic arrangement of the British Labour Party song, “The Red Flag” (to the tune “O Tannenbaum”), plays out over printed statistics that detail the havoc that real-life radical terrorists caused in the year 1980. — Alexander Kaplan
From the original Varèse Sarabande LP
In the ’30s and ’40s I paid my few pennies three, sometimes four times a week, to see every Hollywood movie that came to my hometown of Rugby in England’s heartland. As early as 1933 Max Steiner made a lasting impression on me when, as a ten-year-old movie buff, I wondered at the visual and musical magic of King Kong. Steiner’s later works thrilled and invariably moved to tears millions of cinema-goers the world over culminating with possibly the greatest score ever to David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind.
Roy Budd, a young British piano player whose first film score for Soldier Blue made its mark in America and abroad, shared my admiration for Mr. Steiner and the other great composer at Warner Bros.: Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Budd was engaged to score Catlow, a British-made western which needed more “authenticity” by way of music, and he succeeded. He became my music adviser, composer and conductor, and together we presented Paper Tiger (a marvelous symphonic score), The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and now The Final Option, a political thriller of the moment.
We agreed that while the film needed plenty of conventional, big orchestral support, it presented a unique opportunity to combine big sweeping sound with contemporary music and effects. We turned to two bright young Californians, Jerry and Marc Donahue (sons of Sam Donahue, Tommy Dorsey’s lead sax player and later leader of the U.S. Navy Band in World War II). The Donahues were asked to write a song which embraced the deep feelings of young anti-nuclearists and which (in the film) leads to a public riot; the result is “Right on Time,” played on this album by the composers and joined by two outstanding musicians from Jethro Tull, Gerry Conway and Dave Pegg. My thanks to Roy Budd and the Donahues for a marvelous score.
—Euan Lloyd, Producer