House of Saddam: HBO's Politically Relevant Series

Nov 10, 2008–Revealing the private world of Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, the gripping HBO Films miniseries HOUSE OF SADDAM charts the rise and fall of one of the most significant political figures in recent history when Parts I and II debut SUNDAY, DEC. 7 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), followed by Parts III and IV, debuting SUNDAY, DEC. 14 (9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO. A co-production with the BBC, the drama is directed by Alex Holmes (“Dunkirk”) and Jim O'Hanlon (“Casualty”) from a script by Holmes and Stephen Butchard (“Vincent”). Holmes and Hilary Salmon (HBO's “Five Days”) executive produce; Steve Lightfoot (“Casualty”) produces.

Other HBO playdates for Parts I and II: Dec. 10 (11:30 p.m.), 11 (9:00 p.m., 4:00 a.m.), 14 (7:00 p.m.), 18 (2:00 a.m.), 22 (9:30 p.m.) and 29 (midnight)

Other HBO playdates for Parts III and IV: Dec. 17 (11:30 p.m.), 18 (9:00 p.m., 4:00 a.m.), 22 (11:30 p.m.) and 30 (midnight)

HBO2 playdates for Parts I and II: Dec. 8 (11:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 12 (2:00 p.m.) and 20 (7:00 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates for Parts III and IV: Dec. 15 (11:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.), 19 (2:00 p.m.) and 21 (7:00 p.m.)

HOUSE OF SADDAM offers a fresh perspective on the dictator, his relationships and his actions behind closed doors, retelling events from inside the very heart of the regime. The international cast includes Igal Naor (“Rendition,” “Munich”) as Saddam Hussein; Oscar(r) nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (“House of Sand and Fog”) as Saddam's first wife, Sajida; Philip Arditti (“10 Days to War”) as Saddam's oldest son, Uday; Said Taghmaoui (“Vantage Point,” “The Kite Runner”) as Saddam's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim; and Christine Stephen-Daly (“Casualty,” “Cutting It”) as Saddam's mistress and subsequent second wife, Samira.

“In the history of Iraq and in the world of Saddam Hussein, details are often blurred by politics, propaganda and pure self-interest,” explains co-director, co-writer and executive producer Alex Holmes. “We set out to talk to as many people as we could who had known Saddam first-hand in order to piece together a picture of what life was like inside Saddam's ever-shrinking inner circle. We spoke to his allies and to his adversaries; to politicians, exiles, palace insiders, his cooks, his menservants, friends of the Hussein family and government ministers. We interviewed people inside and outside Iraq.

“We cross-referenced these interviews with pictures and home movies left behind by the Hussein family, some produced for propaganda purposes, but others more candid, salvaged from the regime's destroyed palaces. And we accessed the partial trail of documents that emerged following the fall of the secretive and obsessively bureaucratic regime. The process took three years and involved a team of three researchers, all Arabic speakers. What emerges is a distinct and independent portrait of a dictator and his center of power.”

Beginning in 1979, when Saddam seized control of Iraq in a bloody coup, the miniseries details the impact of his political ambitions and his belief in his own historical significance on his most trusted advisors, closest friends and family members – and on Saddam himself. Within the walls of his opulent palaces and on the streets of Iraq, respect and love are interwoven with fear as Saddam exerts his dominance. He maintains power for almost 25 years in the face of mounting domestic and international pressures, demonstrating an amazing aptitude for survival. Eventually, however, the House of Saddam begins to crumble, and as its leader becomes increasingly isolated from the international community and those nearest to him, his grip on reality and on power fades.

Alex Holmes

Director and co-writer Alex Holmes conceived HOUSE OF SADDAM in April 2003 while researching events in Fallujah at the start of the insurgency against the coalition forces occupying Iraq.

“The more I looked into the history of this conflict, the more I realized how little I understood about the man at its heart, and why he had pursued the courses of action he had,” says Holmes. “I was 22 when Saddam invaded Kuwait, and just beginning my career as a journalist. In hindsight, I realized that without understanding the man, it was impossible to understand his actions or much that followed.”

As Holmes began looking into the life of the man most of the world knew only as a feared dictator, it soon became clear that it was important to tell his story, and drama would be the best medium for unraveling the layers of his private and political life.

“The rise to absolute power and the long tragic fall of a man who has done more than most to influence the course of recent world events is an important historical story to tell,” he says.

“But what made it even more important as a story was the opportunity to present a character study of a dictator: a powerful charismatic man who had a vision for his country and himself, but who, through a combination of the forces ranged against him and flaws in his own character, took himself and the nation he controlled into tragedy and ruin.

“Saddam was a complex man with many strengths, as well as flaws. A drama seemed the only adequate way to examine the complexity of his nature, with which many Iraqis had such an ambivalent relationship involving respect and loathing.”

Holmes and his team cast their research net far and wide to capture the man behind the headlines, spending almost two years interviewing those who knew, worked with and observed Saddam and the people within his world.

“We were determined to try and tell the story of Saddam from the inside out, from the perspective of the inner circle,” says Holmes. “We could not take a single source as the basis for our drama and remain true to the story. This propelled us to go further and talk to people who knew Saddam first-hand, those who had worked for him, those who had supported him and those who had suffered under him.”

A wide range of people were interviewed, from political allies to political opponents, from bodyguards to palace cooks, from childhood friends to those who had contact with him in his last days.

“In short, we talked to anybody who might shed light on his character,” says Holmes. “One of the remarkable things about so many of the people we talked to was how many of them were convinced they had a special relationship with Saddam. 'Others lied to him, only I was able to tell him the truth…he trusted me,' was something we heard time and time again.

“What fascinated me about this was that Saddam had the power to instill this sensation in people. He had political charisma.”

Questions were even sent to Saddam himself via his lawyer while he was in prison. While the team didn't receive a reply, they were able to access other key players in Saddam's regime, such as the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who answered questions through his lawyer.

Notes Holmes, “Our aim was to draw on as much of the research as possible and fairly represent this in the drama. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were many different versions of the same events. Some of these were the result of poor history or poor recollection, but others were motivated by attempts to airbrush history, or the attempts of an individual to paint others in a worse light, while excusing their own actions.

“In all of this it was our responsibility to pick our way through these accounts to find the most consistent and plausible – by which I mean not in contradiction of well-established facts – versions of events.

“One of the most significant things about this story was there was certainly no need to add or heighten the drama. The events and characters are themselves sufficiently dramatic.”

The script was brought to life by a cast of talented actors drawn from all over the world, the result of casting calls in four continents. Says Holmes of Igal Naor, “I knew from his first audition that Igal was our Saddam, and his portrayal has proved me right. His performance suggests a complexity and presence which reflects aspects of Saddam's character and is incredibly compelling to watch.”

Filmed entirely on location in Tunisia, HOUSE OF SADDAM took advantage of a wealth of locations, from the expansive desert to the 1980s hotels that doubled as Saddam's opulent palaces. The main challenge of the 12-week shoot was the heat. During production at the northern edge of the Sahara the temperature reached 53 degrees centigrade (127 degrees fahrenheit).

What does Holmes hope audiences take away from the miniseries “Above all, I would like audiences to engage with the characters, and understand our story and the tragedy of Iraq as being brought about by the unique combination of these characters, and their particular flaws within the broader forces of history,” he explains.

“Many films will be made about Iraq, and in time many Iraqi filmmakers will tell the story of their country's suffering at the hands of Saddam's regime. Our intention with HOUSE OF SADDAM is different. We felt that we could explain to our audience something about what made Saddam tick, and what it was like to exist – and survive – within his innermost circle.”

Part I

Baghdad, March 2003: Saddam Hussein [Igal Naor] watches George Bush appealing to Iraqis via a TV broadcast, asserting, “The tyrant will soon be gone.” As bombs explode nearby, Saddam bids farewell to his sons, Uday [Philip Arditti] and Qusay [Mounir Margoum], who hope to avoid capture “until the Americans are defeated.”

Baghdad, July 1979: During a seventh birthday party for his daughter Hala [Nour Trabelssi], Deputy President Saddam and his allies intimidate President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr [Sason Gabay] into resigning. Convening his first Ba'ath party congress, the new president exposes “detractors,” who are led from the hall, forced to confess to an attempted coup, and executed by party members in a test of loyalty. The personality of Saddam soon permeates Iraq, with his heroic image projected everywhere.

When terrorist bombs tear through Baghdad, Saddam orders a military response, leading to the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam also faces personal travails, including the death of the mother who dominated his upbringing; the erratic behavior of Uday, his first son and heir; and a deteriorating alliance with Barzan Ibrahim [Said Taghmaoui], a half-brother and former deputy. Saddam finds solace with Samira Shahbandar [Christine Stephen-Daly], a married beauty who becomes his mistress, to the chagrin of his wife Sajida [Shohreh Aghdashloo]. Later, Saddam's family and friends gather to celebrate daughter Raghad's [Agni Scott] marriage to Hussein Kamel [Amr Waked], Saddam's cousin and close ally. Despite the festivities, a feeling of foreboding mounts, as jealousy, rivalry and paranoia will soon test loyalties to the limit.

Part II

1988: Though Iraq is on the brink of bankruptcy, Baghdad is jubilant in victory after the war with Iran. Uday celebrates in a nightclub by getting drunk and firing a gun into the crowd. His brother-in-law Hussein, now Saddam's adviser, observes Uday's actions with concern.

As Kuwait's upsurge in oil output challenges Iraqi prosperity, a family lunch reveals fractures in Saddam's household, including fears that an insider might overthrow him.

News spreads that Saddam has taken Samira as a second wife, with grim ramifications. Sajida is shamed that Kamel Hanna [Akbar Kurtha], a servant, knew first. Her brother, Saddam's longtime lieutenant Adnan [Said Amadis], cautions Saddam that he's neglecting the needs of both Sajida and his army; Saddam replies that he'll address only the latter.

Uday's short fuse is lethally ignited when he confronts an inebriated Kamel Hanna at a party, beating him to death in front of horrified guests. Following a failed suicide attempt, Uday faces the thunderous rage of his father. Inevitably, Saddam questions Adnan's loyalty; a suspicious helicopter accident removes the threat, but ruins relations between the couple.

Meanwhile, Kuwait's oil policies incite Saddam to declare war and he leads his army into “the mother of all battles.” As nations line up to defend Kuwait, Saddam boasts that it takes 30 nations to take on one Iraq; when the American-led coalition chooses not to march on Baghdad, he claims victory.

Part III

May 1995: Iraq is crippled by UN sanctions imposed for the country's failure to comply with weapon inspections. When inspectors are finally admitted, a cat-and-mouse game begins. Weapons, chemicals and documents are buried or concealed, with inspectors chaperoned around aimlessly. In charge of the subterfuge is Qusay, Saddam's latest heir-apparent – a move that infuriates Hussein Kamel, who sees himself as having earned succession to the throne of power. Tensions erupt at a meeting in which Uday taunts Hussein and throws his food at him.

Convinced he's descended from prophets, Saddam claims Iraq is being ostracized due to religious jealousy. As a “Day of Days” celebration marks the seventh anniversary of the victory over Iran, a worried Hussein and his brother decide to cross the border to take diplomatic asylum in Jordan with their wives, Saddam's daughters Raghad and Rana [Shivani Ghai].

There, Hussein meets with UN and CIA officials, offering up information on the whereabouts of Iraq's hidden weapons while making claims to Iraqi's leadership. Meanwhile, an infuriated Saddam moves the hidden weapons documents to Hussein's warehouse, negating the UN's reliance on him for information. No longer of value to the enemies of Saddam, the brothers are lured back to Iraq with the promise that they will be forgiven and no harm will come at either Saddam's or his sons' hands. Crossing the border, however, they are arrested, forced to divorce Saddam's daughters, and locked in a safe house. Saddam then enlists Ali Hassan Al Majid [Uri Gavriel], the defectors' uncle, to carry out their ultimate punishment.

Part IV

March 2003: As Bush declares “the day of liberation is near,” Saddam instructs most of his family to flee to Syria; only Uday, Qusay and grandson Mustapha remain. For his safety, Saddam goes into hiding near Tikrit, off the banks of the Tigris River, where he lived as a child. As coalition forces flood Baghdad, Saddam remains holed up in a hut, making rallying-cry audiotapes that his bodyguard delivers to radio stations.

Meanwhile, Uday, Qusay and Mustapha hide in a relative's Baghdad house, but the location is soon leaked to U.S. officials. A lengthy gunfight ensues and the three are killed, leaving Saddam in shock and Sajida shattered.

One night, braving coalition patrols, an emotional Saddam visits his sons' graves near Tikrit, laying Iraqi flags atop the soil in respect. After learning of the $25 million price on his head, Saddam senses time is running out. When the army arrives at last, even his bodyguard's last throes of loyalty cannot save Saddam from being discovered inside a makeshift underground hole. Hauled out, dignity in tatters and held to the ground, he declares, “I am the President of Iraq, and I am willing to negotiate.”


Igal Naor's (Saddam Hussein) credits include “Rendition” and Steven Spielberg's “Munich”; he will also be seen in the upcoming Paul Greengrass film “Green Zone.”

Shohreh Aghdashloo (Sajida) received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar(r) nomination for “House of Sand and Fog.” Her other credits include “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” “The Lake House,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Nativity Story” and the hit series “24,” for which she was nominated for a Satellite Award. Aghdashloo also stars in the upcoming feature film “The Stoning of Soraya M,” directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, which recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Christine Stephen-Daly's (Samira) TV series credits include “The Bill,” “Cutting It,” “Casualty,” “Stingers,” “Holby City” and “Something in the Air.”

Jim O'Hanlon (director) has directed such TV series as “Wild at Heart,” “Shameless,” “Waking the Dead” and “Casualty.”

Alex Holmes (director, writer, executive producer) has produced such TV films as “Every Time You Look at Me,” “The Race for Everest” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” He also wrote and directed the BAFTA-winning TV film “Dunkirk.”

Stephen Butchard (writer) was the creator and writer of the TV series “Vincent.” His TV writing credits also include “Lie with Me,” “Lenny Blue” and “Little Bird.”

Hilary Salmon's (executive producer) TV producing credits include “Criminal Justice,” HBO's “Five Days,” “To the Ends of the Earth” and the upcoming “The 39 Steps.”

Steve Lightfoot (producer) counts “Sorted,” “Marian, Again,” “Casualty,” “No Angels” and the upcoming “Sleep with Me” among his TV credits.