71: A story of remembering and interpreting the past

Film buff, Dan McGinn has an interesting review over on his great blog ‘They’ll love it in Pomona” A new picture by Yann Demange called 71 tells the story of one of the brutal years of the Troubles. It was the year in which Internment was introduced, Ballymurphy massacre took place, the Tripartite summit between Ted Heath, Brian Faulkner & Jack Lynch attempted to find a solution to what the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs called “a tragic and most tractable problem.”

The entire article is worth a read but here are some interesting exerpts from McGinn’s review;

Troubles movies are a notoriously difficult sell to mainstream movie audiences – especially outside Northern Ireland.

However Demange’s film is a rare addition to the genre in that it takes a squaddie’s eye view of one of the worst years of the conflict.

But while it touches on the complexity and tragedy of the early Troubles, ’71 uses the conflict mostly as a canvass to craft a taut thriller.

Up and coming English actor Jack O’Connell plays Gary Hook, a soldier with a younger brother in a care home who, after undergoing basic training, is posted to Belfast under the command of Sebastian Reid’s naive, posh Lieutenant Armitage.
In its first operation, the platoon is ordered to accompany RUC officers on a raid on the house of a suspected IRA member off the Falls Road.
But they are ordered by Armitage to forego their riot gear and wear their uniforms and berets so as not to inflame the situation.
En route to the house, the soldiers are pelted by children with urine and excrement but they are faced with a much more dangerous situation as residents gather to protest on the street where the raid takes place.Tensions reach boiling point and inevitably, rioting breaks out and the rifle of a member of the platoon is stolen.

Hook and Jack Lowden’s fellow squaddie Thommo pursue on foot a boy who has grabbed the rifle.

As they wrestle it back, they are surrounded by an angry mob, are kicked and beaten.

A woman intervenes and pleads for sanity but, in a shocking sequence, Thommo is shot through the head by Martin McCann’s Provisional IRA member Paul Haggerty.

Events take a further turn for the worse, when the platoon flees the scene and accidentally leaves Hook behind.

Chased through a warren of alleyways by Haggerty, the bruised and battered Hook manages to find a hiding place.

But can he find his way back to barracks in a city he has next to no knowledge of? And can he trust anyone to help a wounded soldier?

This sounds like a great film to watch as it seems to portray the a critical year in the Troubles through the eyes of soldiers who had no great notion about Ireland. I remember reading some notes from British army officers as early as December 1969 writing asking to go home as they had enough of being in Northern Ireland. No doubt, it will be criticised by some, but I after reading McGinn’s review I will just buy a ticket and see for myself.