Moore Not Less - North Sea Hijack

North Sea Hijack (also known as Ffolkes and Assault Force outside of Britain) saw Roger Moore try to shake off his now firmly established James Bond image and play a very different type of character. This was probably too late as he'd been typecast since his Simon Templar days but North Sea Hijack is an enjoyable little action/suspense yarn and Roger seems to be having fun.
He plays an eccentric, grumpy and bearded marine counter-terrorist expert named Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (the small - and double - 'f' is no typo, it's an ancient English name apparently) who has a fondness for woolly jumpers, bobble hats, knitting, crossword puzzles and cats. He lives in a castle and drinks whisky from the bottle at a time when most of us are waking up with a mug of PG Tips.
The film reunited Roger with Wild Geese director Andrew V McLaglen and the pair would soon work together again on The Sea Wolves. This is a slightly gentler affair than The Wild Geese but the villains are quite nasty and there are harpoon guns etc. It's not Mary Poppins.
Roger has spoken of North Sea Hijack with some fondness. In his view he might have been somewhat miscast but he enjoyed playing the part of ffolkes. It made for a nice break from James Bond, especially after the long shoot on Moonraker.
A strong cast was assembled around Moore for the film with James Mason as Admiral Brindsen and Anthony Perkins and Michael Parks as the villains. Look out for George Baker and David Hedison too. Baker had appeared in On Her Majesty's Secret Service while Hedison played Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die alongside Roger several years previously. There was no escaping those Bond connections.
In North Sea Hijack, a gang of villains led by nutty Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins) and Harold Shulman (Michael Parks) pose as reporters to gain access to an oil production platform in the North Sea. They hijack the supply ship and place mines on the platform and its oil drilling rig. The ambitious crooks then demand a hefty ransom from the British government or else they'll blow these expensive rigs to smithereens. Not to mention that they have hostages too.
"I am the temporary captain of this tub and you're going to be taking your orders from me for the time being. And the quicker you get that straight, the shorter that time is gonna be, so let's just play patty-cake together and get this over with. Remember, luck favours the man with the most limpet mines and I've got a bundle of them. Two stuck to the underside of the drilling rig Ruth, and four planted right under your ass." That's telling them.
The government (led by Faith Brook - a nod to the fact that Britain had a female Prime Minister at the time) is reluctant to fork out the ransom cash to these terrorists and turn to Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger) - a counter-terrorist expert who has been training to deal with situations exactly like this. Admiral Sir Francis Brindsen (James Mason) is ordered to work with ffolkes. Can they save the rigs and hostages?

Despite the synopsis, North Sea Hijack is relatively light on action but this doesn't really matter in the end and manages to make the film more interesting than it might have been as a more straight forward action/hostage caper with gunfights and explosions aplenty. A lot of the film revolves around the painstaking preparations of ffolkes and his team as they plan their assault on the ship with Admiral Brindsen to be used as part of the ruse.
Moore barks at his men and gets a few amusing insults to dispense. There is a touch of James Robertson-Justice about ffolkes. That booming voiced bombast. Someone who doesn't suffer fools.
James Mason nicely underplays his part here and his dry exasperation makes a nice contrast with ffolkes. Mason's soothing voice makes these two chalk and cheese. The main enjoyment in the ffolkes character comes from the fact that's he incredibly rude to everyone and has no sense of tact. When he does show a softer side at the resolution of the film it's quite touching.
Rufus is a terrible misogynist and the explanation for this is as eccentric as Roger's beard. "You see, I, together with my five elder sisters, was raised by a maiden aunt. Both my parents died tragically in childbirth. Until the age of ten, I was forced to wear my sister's hand-me-downs. Then when I married, I discovered to my horror that my wife also had five sisters, all unmarried, and all expecting my support. I find cats a far superior breed. Just on the off chance, I have made a will. I've left everything to my cats. I want it testified that I am sound of body and mind."
It's a nice joke to have Rog a million miles away from his playboy 007 image. Here, with his unkempt beard and lack of social graces, he doesn't even like women in the first place.
There is a subplot where the hostages try to turn the tables on the terrorists and this is reasonably tense and helps to pad the film out. We get a lot of stuff in control rooms and places on the ship but the cast are good and there is a balance between the events at sea and the preparations of ffolkes - plus all the political wrangling.
Given the lack of spectacle and action capers North Sea Hijack is impressive in the way that it still manages to hold your attention. The training sequences are entertaining, as is the location work at sea. Dunguaire Castle was used as the home of ffolkes.

Anthony Perkins is especially bonkers as the villain Kramer and even manages to outbonkers Michael Parks as his assistant baddie. Despite the synopsis (which makes it sound like Under Siege 5) there is something rather cosy and old-fashioned about North Sea Hijack. This is a world where psychopathic terrorists are no match for a British eccentric who likes woolly jumpers.
The climax is not the most spectacular but it works fairly well and you'll certainly be rooting for Rufus and his team to take out Perkins and his gang by the end. I liked the line they give Roger too when he has to go into action. "A wet suit in vermilion. Just what one needs at night."
North Sea Hijack is no masterpiece but it's a solid fun adventure yarn from yesteryear that is worth a look if you stumble across it on television or see it for sale at a can't resist price. And Roger was far too modest when he said he was miscast. He's always great fun as Rufus Excalibur ffolkes.
- Jake

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