The Truth Commissioner – BBC Two NI – 9pm on Sunday 13 March

The film adaptation of David Park’s novel The Truth Commissioner will be screened on BBC Two NI this evening at 9pm following its cinematic release in February.

Henry Stanfield is a serial peace-builder, a career diplomat who flies in to heal wounds and build bridges in conflicted regions of the world. The Prime Minister appoints him as Truth Commissioner for Northern Ireland. Aside from his formal role to listen to testimony from families, perpetrators and witnesses, Roger Allam (The Thick of It) portrays an aloof, lonely, loveless widower, struggling to repair his relationship with his daughter (who thought she had escaped him when she moved to Northern Ireland). His flesh is weak, his judgement is poor, his heart is often in nearly the right place: he’s a walking liability.

A moody Belfast provides the backdrop for the story, with the dark hills standing over the city’s stone buildings and modern glass architecture. (Derry’s newly renovated Guildhall provides the inside set for the Truth Commission chamber.)

In a film that examines the complexity of the legacy issues Northern Ireland has yet to fully grasp, Ciaran Flynn plays the character of Connor Roche who is suspected of being a police informer. He disappeared when the IRA discovered. His sister Maria Roche (Simone Kirby) and her mother seize the opportunity of the commission to discover the truth behind her brother’s disappearance.

We all want the truth, but what’s it going to cost?

Truth Commissioner Conleth Hill and Joanne Crawford as Johnny Rafferty and Anna ConnollyJames Fenton (Ian McElhinney) is a retired RUC officer, reluctant to be called to testify about his dealings with Connor. Sinn Féin’s Francis Gilmore (Sean McGinley) is an Executive minister, someone the British and Irish governments feel they can work with, but has a past that is catching up with him as rapidly as harder line colleagues want him to leave the stage. Finally, Michael Madden (Barry Ward) has been tracked down in Boston. With no family in Ireland and a minor role in Connor’s abduction, he’s the appointed fall guy to take the blame and protect more important people’s careers.

Truth doesn’t necessarily follow from honest testimony. Justice and healing don’t necessarily follow on from truth. Closure doesn’t require truth.

The Truth Commissioner bookcoverWith a single case at the heart of the film, there’s an element of stereotyping of republicans, security forces and even families of victims. The blurred bridge between fiction and real life makes it difficult for NI minds not to speculate in the darkened cinema: fictional politicians from real political parties; a fictional murder but with heavy real life parallels with informers and the disappeared.

Based loosely but not entirely on the South African model, this film’s value isn’t as an advert for a truth commission in Northern Ireland. As a fictionalised worked example, The Truth Commissioner exposes enough flaws in the approach to undermine its applicability.

Directed by Declan Recks; screenplay by Eoin O’Callaghan; original novel by David Park.

Sunday 13 March at 9pm on BBC Two NI and subsequently on iPlayer.

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  • Granni Trixie

    Already I can see that SF in particular will hate this film.

  • Robin Keogh

    Some lovely shots of Belfast. The film itself seems to question if the truth we hope to hear from whatever quarter, will actually be the truth . It also paints a picture of a complicated trail of cover up and collusion, probably not too far from reality. However, if there ever is a truth commission, I hope for the sake of victims it is nothing like that portrayed tonight.

  • Granni Trixie

    You left out a crucial aspect which denial often obscures namely it brought the viewer up close and personal to the reality of the violence and its impact on families. I am sure those who were directly involved in such acts are feeling at the very least uncomfortable tonight.

  • Robin Keogh

    For sure but I think anybody who has given the conflict any serious consideration would be aware of the emotional trauma and suffering involved. I had cancer a few years ago and recovered but it is impossible to relay to people the fear and anguish such trauma causes. To be fully understood one needs to have experienced it. Likewise, the loss suffered on all sides during the war can be presented on film in any way the director chooses but the viewer is at the mercy of the production quality and overall presentation.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    They might warm to it if it was renamed to “The Two Truths Commisioner” Additional counter balancing footage would be demanded but hey, let’s not go there.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m really surprised that talk about the programme today isn’t focusing more on the portrayal of SF characters and their politics. Yes, as Alan notes in the post most of the main suspects are stereotypes, nevertheless we saw worrying but credible scenarios where SF have not the will to tell the truth because it will damage them and are just as callous to vulnerable young people as the state who recruited them. We also saw ruthless SF politicans prepared to do anything to promote self interest – which included having the truth known about what they had been up to during the troubles. The problem isn’t going away anytime soon!