Ben Affleck’s new film Argo tells the story of six American diplomats who took refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador after Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979, taking 52 Americans hostage. The CIA and Canadian officials then hatched a plot to smuggle the six out, with the cover story that they were Canadian filmmakers shooting a sci-fi movie.
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In the movie, the six Americans claimed to have sought shelter from the Canadians after having been “turned away” by both the British and New Zealand governments.
It turns out, however, that wasn’t remotely true.
Sir John Graham, 86, who was Britain’s ambassador to Iran at the time, told The Telegraph: “It is not the truth that they were turned away from the British Embassy. We gave them all help at the time. My immediate reaction on hearing about this was one of outrage. I have since simmered down, but am still very distressed that the filmmakers should have got it so wrong. My concern is that the inaccurate account should not enter the mythology of the events in Tehran in November 1979.”
According to everyone familiar with the real-life events that Argo depicted, the six Americans first fled the U.S. Embassy to a British compound in the north of Tehran. New Zealand diplomats also helped secretly shuttle the Americans around various safe havens in the Iranian capital. But fearing that British compounds would be among the first places the Iranians would look for them, the six Americans ultimately decided that it was less of a risk to seek shelter from the Canadians.
Affleck told the New Zealand Herald that he agonized over changing the account in an effort to set up a “situation where you needed to get a sense that these six people had nowhere else to go.”
He also says the depiction isn’t totally fair and didn’t intend to diminish anyone’s role in the events. In the end, after all, Argo is still a Hollywood film.