You know, to a lot of people these days, terrorism wasn't invented until September the 11th 2001, but, with like most Americanism, its completely incorrect.
People in the British isles had been enjoying the benefits of terrorism since the 1960s in one form or another, usually due to Irish nationalists thinking it was Ok to set off bombs in public areas so that they could somehow garner sympathy and/or fear, which would eventually lead to a united Ireland...then their loyalist counterparts would do the same to them....er, didn't work did it?.
So, what does this have to do with 1974s "Juggernaut"? (also known as "Terror on the Britannic").. not much really, although the first half of the film is spent blaming Irish nationalists for the fact that DIRTY HUGE GREAT BOMBS!!!!! have been planted on a British luxury cruise liner.....
The film stars an impressive (for the time it was made) ensemble cast, with Omar Sharif, Richard Harris, Freddie Jones, Roy Kinnear, Julian Glover, Cyril Cusack, a young looking Ian Holm and a very young looking Anthony Hopkins all playing major parts, the film also stars John Bindon in one of his typecast roles as a "heavy" (Bindon would later go on to narrowly escape being jailed for murder, and eventually died of an AIDs related illness), and a very young looking Simon MacCorkindale in a minor role as one of the ships crew.
Storywise, the film follows an "A-plot/B-plot" style, both of which intertwine somewhere in the middle...
Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm), the owner of a successful British Cruise liner company, receives a telephone call from a man with an Irish accent. The man, who insists on being referred to by the code name "Juggernaut", informs him that the companies premier cruise liner, the SS Britannic, has had several bombs placed on it, all of them wired to detonate while the ship is in the mid Atlantic, which is about 24 hours from now. Juggernaut demands £500,000 in cash to be left in two suitcases at a railway stations lost property office. Once he receives the money, he will give instructions on how the bombs can be safely defused. To show he means business, two smaller bombs are detonated in the vicinity of the ships bridge, causing minor injury to some of the ships bridge crew.
Porter is horrified as his wife and son are aboard the Britannic, however his attempts to peacefully resolve the problem by simply paying up are thwarted by the involvement of government anti terrorism authorities, who state that if he pays up, his government subsidy will be withdrawn, thus leaving the company an unprofitable one.
It is decided that as a full evacuation of the ships crew and passengers is not a viable option due to its remote location, a team of Royal Navy bomb disposal experts will be air dropped on to the Britannic in an attempt to defuse the bombs, whilst Superintendent McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) of Scotland Yard will investigate and hopefully arrest "Juggernaut".
The Royal Navy bomb disposal team arrives on board the Britannic, where the crew are struggling to maintain morale amongst both themselves and the passengers (Roy Kinnear really shines here as the ships entertainments officer, maintaining the facade of cheery optimism despite the fact that he, like everyone else on the Britannic, is terrified).
The first attempt to defuse one of the bombs, all of which are housed in oil drums and placed at strategic points below the water line, goes horribly wrong as Porters son wanders into the area where the bomb is and gets locked in. The resulting explosion caused by the remote bomb disposal robot triggering a trembler switch causes the death of one of the ships stewards who was looking for the boy and got trapped with him. The bomb disposal team changes tactics, Fallon (Richard Harris) allocates one member of his team to each bomb, he will begin trying to disarm the one he is at, with the remainder of the team following his actions, if he fucks up, then the next member continues on a different track until they have all been disarmed.
Another accident sets off a bomb when one of the team goes ahead and does something which Fallon had said he was going to do but didn't,resulting in another death and cutting the teams safety margin down. Fallon eventually finds that the path he has been following is in fact a wild goose chase, made up of a number of booby trapped puzzles which ultimately result in him finding a rude message hidden inside the bomb, however this reminds him of an incident during world war 2 where a German bomb maker did exactly the same thing, this piece of evidence allows McLeod to narrow down the list of suspects and eventually find and arrest "Juggernaut".
Realising the bombs have been made in a similar vein to the WW2 bomb, he manages to find the real detonator and, with a little help from the now captured "Juggernaut", figures out how the bombs are to be defused.
This film is very much one of its time, released during a period of near constant bomb threats in the UK due to domestic terrorism of one sort or another, the feeling of helplessness in the face of this is really well put across, especially by Roy Kinnears character.
The film is let down by the fact that although the Britannic is described as being a luxury cruise liner, it has that distinct 70s "cross channel ferry" feel to it, and all of the scenes of it at sea were shot in the appalling weather conditions as found in the North sea, this was due to the script requirements needing to show that an evacuation of the vessel was impossible due to poor weather conditions etc.
Nonetheless, "Juggernaut" works as a good example of a 70s/80s "Thriller" type film, everyone involved plays their roles really well, although Omar Sharif seems wasted in his role as the Captain of the Britannic.
Still, well worth a watch.