Sunday, 9 August 2015

'71 (2014)

It's 1971, the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland and a young soldier (Jack O'Connell) is left behind after his platoon come under attack while supporting a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) raid on a house near the Falls Road in Belfast.

What starts off as a simple tale of a soldier finding his way back to base, slowly turns into a critique of the RUC's and, more importantly, the Military Reaction Force's (MRF) tactics during a period when Belfast was a Molotov cocktail just waiting for a match. In fact O'Connell's character can almost be thought of as a McGuffin, driving the story forward but having little actual importance, he could be any soldier, an "Everysoldier". What is important is what happens around him; the murders, violence, betrayals, alliances, apathy, anger. That's not to say that O'Connell sleepwalks through the role though. His performance is subtle and ever-changing, showing innocence, naivety, sadness, bewilderment and a genuine concern for the people of Belfast.

Another large part of the film is dedicated to the growth of the, then in their infancy, Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and their conflict with the old guard of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Sometimes this comes over as a little too black & white and straightforward with the PIRA being portrayed as young firebrands using any means necessary to remove the British from Irish soil and the traditional values of the soldiers of the IRA.

There are some truly shocking moments that will make even the most hardened war film viewers gasp. Filmed in Sheffield and Blackburn, the film makers make a great job of portraying an almost Beirut-like, war-torn Belfast full of boarded-up houses, burning cars, and warren-like alleys.

A couple of pieces of dialogue sum up the film pretty well:

  • When the wee kid asks O'Connell "You're not Catholic with a name like that. Are you protestant then?" he replies "Dunno".
  • Then later a conversation between O'Connell and a young woman: "Derby and Nottingham don't really get on", "Oh, why's that?", "Don't really know".

Says it all really.

To give you an idea of the number of deaths during this period, during the years 2003 to 2011, 179 British soldiers died in Iraq. In years 1971 to 1978, 544 British soldiers died in Ireland/Northern Ireland. This doesn't even take into account civilian deaths (1118). I wonder if we've forgotten about this terrible period in our country's history far too quickly.

Anyway, here's some homework for you:

And for all you old punks out there, here's some Angelic Upstarts:

Last night another soldier, last night another child
No one seems to worry, no one sees his mother cry

Can you see that smart, clean soldier,
Standing straight and oh so proud
He wants to fight for Queen and country
He wants to make his family proud

A job with the future, his way to get out of it
It's his sense of romance, it never ends that way
Last night another soldier, last night another child
No one seems to worry, no one sees his mother cry

They're just facts and figures on your TV screen
Another child and another soldier, is peace just a dream

In the country strange and foreign all the people resent him
He can't cope with his problems, all the fears and hatred

Now he wish he never went he wish he never thought of it
It's not the same as fighting armies looking for the terrorists

They're just facts and figures...

Can you hear the mocking laughter from the ones that gain by it
They're not in line for the bullets, they're the ones who started it

They're just facts and figures...

Last night another soldier, last night another child
Just a number in the papers, another one of the innocent

They're just facts and figures..

Letterboxd Review

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