1971 AGAIN

71I thought i should say some little thing about the recent film “’71” which I watched recently. There has been some talk about it and generally it accrued some rave reviews from various film critics.You may have read about it or maybe even saw it yourself.

It’s set in Belfast  in 1971,  when the Troubles were just clicking up a gear. Things were rapidly running out of control and British troops had been sent in , supposedly as a buffer between two warring communities living cheek by jowl , specifically in one  small part of Belfast. The divided territory  was demarcated by the Falls Road,  with loyalism’s stronghold on one side and nationalism’s on the other. So far so good. ….

I’ll not spoil any plotlines if you haven’t seen it. It is well acted and very realistic. The metal bin lids being banged on the pavement as a community signal,  by the womenfolk , during a house search, reminded me how many physical things have changed in the past forty plus years. There were no wheelie bins then and no one was worrying about re-cycling boxes either. Life was being lived in a much more visceral and grubby way.

The film had  a 1960’s “Kitchen Sink” quality to it . Indeed it was mostly  filmed very tightly and in a very claustrophobic way. It could have been Anytown though . We never got beyond those tight wee alleyways and the sepia gloom of those old pubs. I lived and worked in Belfast that year and it was nowhere to be seen in this film.

As a human story it worked well.It was seen from the perspective of  a young Englishman who had basically joined the army to see a bit of the world and wasn’t too jubilant to find himself in a incomprehensible political and social situation, just  minutes away ,across the Irish Sea.He was leaving his own  sense of emptiness  and unfullfilment behind him. In this scenario, he was only a mere pawn in a much larger game. That’s the thing  that struck me about the film.To the Englishmen  we were all just homogenous “paddies” to be sorted out …even as some of the  loyalist “paddies” were basically on their side.There were so many scenarios that would have been incomprehensible to anyone who had never experienced life in Ireland during those years .  Incomprehensible  too if they were watching this as an action movie. That’s the problem , really …all the civilians were interchangeable , with their lank early 1970s hairstyles,  and mostly  lack of anything remotely  like  personal grooming or style.The combatants  were generally not in any kind of uniform . That was probably a very authentic touch .Usually  in newsreels there are berets , dark glasses and the rest of the parphernalia. These young men operated in cheap off -the- peg  jackets, jumpers  and suits.

Some attempt at explaining the backgrounds of the characters was made,of course,  but without knowing about the  tensions within the old Official IRA and the new  hot-gun Provos or the extent  that British intelligence was exerting within both the loyalist camp and the nationalists , even at this early stage , much of the action’s raison d’etre  would leave Mildred from Milton Keynes , scratching her head in bafflement . That’s not even getting into the strong colloquial accents . I felt a little like the first time I watched “The Wire” without subtitles, but at least  I had personal background knowledge of life in Norneverland.

This might sound like I am being disparaging about a fine film .I’m not. I think it could have worked better as a series like “Homeland” where characterisation could have been developed further  and in the end making our madly uncontrolled situation, better understood.

Recently there has been much talk about  producing a dark comedy set in the time of  the Great Irish Famine. There might be even more mileage in a series with the reach of  “The Sopranos” or “Homeland ” but set instead , during the Troubles in Ireland .it could work if the writers were knowledgeable enough and if the  writing had a balance in it  to cut  through all the half-truths and fantasy. They might have to be careful with the accents though.A good sound- recording man would be a requisite.

As an aside , it should be noted that….the entire film was shot in England .It began on location in Blackburn, Lancashire{ of Beatles’  4000 holes , fame} in April 2013 and continued in Sheffield and Liverpool. I wonder did the film crew ever set foot in Ireland at all.


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