Bombs are put aboard an ocean liner, The Brittanic, which goes to sea before this is discovered; and then a ransom is demanded ashore by a mysterious terrorist whose codename is Juggernaut. Whilst the government and the shipping company negotiate with this unknown figure, a squad of bomb disposal experts are landed on the ship in an endeavour to defuse the explosives.
Arguably one of the best films made in Britain during the Seventies, Juggernaut is centrally about England. It articulates its themes through a judicious combination of suspense thriller and moral and political allegory. The Brittanic is implicitly England, sailing into choppy waters when the stabilisers are not working. ‘Looks like Edward Heath,’ says an observed when the captain is spotted on the bridge. The explosive wires are coloured red and blue, reinforcing the image of the Britannic as an England sitting on a powder-keg of potentially divisive and destructive social forces. In terms of genre, Juggernaut poses a scintillating set of variations on the disaster movie, the oblique opening being a sort of game with the conventions of character and situation. The linking of game with tension and danger is extended in Roy Kinnear’s remarkable performance as the Social Director, Mr. Curtain, whose job is to provide entertainment for the passengers to distract them from their perils and whose strained jollity is reduced by events to near hysteria. ‘A night to remember,’ he mumbles nervously, unwittingly evoking an uneasy analogy between the situation of his liner and the ill-fated Titanic. There are also superb performances from Ian Holm, Anthony Hopkins, Freddie Jones and Richard Harris, and Lester’s direction has rarely been sharper and more alert. (U.S.A., 1974. Colour. Panavision anamorphic. 110 mins.)