Channel 4 was scheduled to screen the new feature film 'The Mark of Cain' last Thursday, but delayed it after coming under enormous pressure from the Ministry of Defence, Army and other quarters, as I reported in an article published in Al Hayat on the morning of that day. In addition to concerns that the film would stir up anti-British feeling that might increase attacks on British forces in Iraq, it was claimed that if it was screened during the delicate British-Iranian negotiations on the Royal Navy personnel held in Iran, Iran might use the depiction of British brutality in the film to delay a release of the captives. In the event, the captives were released on Wednesday but Channel 4 still decided not to show the film the following night. It will now be shown this Thursday, when the controversy over it is bound to be rekindled.
The film, written by Tony Marchant, takes its title from the famous speech made by Colonel Tim Collins, the then commander of the Royal Irish Regiment, on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He warned his men that anyone who took an Iraqi life needlessly would “live with the mark of Cain” upon them. Collins says that the film “panders to popular prejudices” against the British Army and what its soldiers do. It “fails to capture the realities and subtleties of the most disciplined and professional army in the world” and Channel 4 should “put this rubbish in the dustbin.”
Conservative MP Michael Gove, a staunch supporter of the war, acknowledges that the film is an “effective, wrenching drama” but says it is“radically unbalanced”. Everyone who appears in British uniform in it is “either a villain or a moral coward” and it makes the British Army seem like a “quasi terrorising force.”
“The Mark of Cain”, which is based on real-life incidents, is the first British feature film on the experiences of British soldiers in the Iraq war. At its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in February, it won Amnesty International’s award in the “Movies that Matter” category. After its screening on Channel 4, the film is due to be released on DVD and shown in cinemas.
Defence Secretary Des Brown considers that the film will hand a propaganda opportunity to insurgents and put British lives at risk. Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the Desert Rats, has said that the film is “bound to have an impact in the Middle East” and was among those who called on Channel 4, during the negotations over the captives in Iran, to delay the screening. But he considers it an “important” film that should eventually be shown.
Lisa Marshall, Channel 4’s commissioning editor for drama, told BBC Radio: “We are very proud of this film and we think it is an even-handed portrayal of soldiers.”