Nothing shores up a foundering head of state’s popularity among the electorate like a quick war, decisively won. The British response to Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands looks from three decades on something like what the Bush Administration promised the seven-plus-year-old war in Iraq would be: The Falklands War lasted only 74 days, and the U.K.’s victory helped propel the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to big electoral gains the following year.
Sink the Belgrano!, a 1986 play by British actor and director Steven Berkoff, is not a cool-headed history of the conflict or anything close. It’s an astringent piece of agitprop condemning what Berkoff sees as a violent overreaction by Thatcher — called “Maggot Scratcher” here, in the plainest example of his appropriation of sing-songy, infantile language — whom the playwright argues rebuffed all attempts at diplomacy, knowing her political aims would be better served by bloodshed. The title refers to an episode a month after the Argentine invasion, wherein the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror fired upon and destroyed the vessel ARA General Belgrano, killing 323 crewmen.