The place is Belfast in Northern Ireland and the Troubles are continuing with British soldiers a very visible presence on the streets of the city and often a target for the Irish Republican terrorists. Demolitions expert Niall Hennessy (Rod Steiger) used to arrange explosives to be passed on to them, via his good friend Sean Tobin (Eric Porter), but no more, he has lost his taste for contributing to violence and tells him so, in spite of Tobin's pleas for him to change his mind. However, mere minutes after that conversation he goes to meet his wife who has picked up their young daughter from school, when a riot breaks out outside the doors - with tragic consequences.
It's not a suprise to see the name of A.I.P. presenting this, one of their few British-based movies, in the opening credits of Hennessy, because it demonstrated an understanding of the tricky situation in seventies Northern Irish politics that fell far short of anything close enough to reality to be truly useful. Which was why it was better to approach the film as a thriller in the form of its most obvious influence The Day of the Jackal: that detailed an assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle which you knew from the beginning wasn't going to succeed, whereas this little item depicted an attempt on Queen Elizabeth II.
Who appeared as herself, which was generous of her to give over some time to A.I.P.'s cigar-chomping mogul Samuel Z. Arkoff - hey, waidaminnit, what's this disclaimer at the beginning? If the text rolling up the screen before the opening credits even begin didn't whet your appetite, then this wasn't the movie for you, as it intriguingly told us the Royal family had no willing contribution to the movie whatsoever and that implication should not be taken from the end result. As it turned out, this etiquette faux pas was the most interesting aspect, because you would likely find the long, slow build up to the mass murder attempt something of a slog if you were not waiting to see exactly what happened in the film that offended the establishment so.
In the meantime, a surprisingly reserved and thoughtful Steiger drew his plans together in revenge for the death of his wife and daughter when a dazed squaddie fired off a few machine gun rounds and mowed down some of the rioters, plus innocent bystanders. For some reason once the I.R.A. head honchos hear about Hennessy's assassination scheme, they don't want it to go ahead since they believe it would be a public relations disaster for them, so they set about stopping him in his tracks by sending men to the mainland to put him off. With violence, if necessary, and when Special Branch - led by Richard Johnson, also credited with the storyline - get wind of his hopes, this means both sides in the conflict are driven to prevent him by any means necessary.
Now in London, Hennessy stays with old friend Kate Brooke, played by Lee Remick showing off the accent she employed in one of her other British-set films, Loot, though as with many of the affected inflections heard here this is a little more shaky this time around. She also gets the "oh, you men!" mithering when she realises it's the males in the narrative who think violence and more violence is the answer to everything in this life, not a bad sentiment but coming across as weighed down with clichés in this case. After some draggy pacing from director Don Sharp as if he were keeping his powder dry for the finale (though we did get to see Patrick Stewart in his debut doing the old struggle for the gun demise bit), the editing by Eric Boyd-Perkins to make it look as if suicide bomber Steiger is lurking within The Houses of Parliament among the most powerful people in the United Kingdom was actually really well done, if only to see Brenda apparently reacting to the title character's actions. Worth catching for the audacity of the denouement, but stodgy, unilluminating stuff otherwise. Music by John Scott.