Film Review: '71

Director: Yann Demange

Screenplay: Gregory Burke

Showing: Thursday 23rd July - 1:15pm


This is a terrific thriller - exhilarating, realistic and the storytelling tighter than an orange parade drum. Set during the peak of the troubles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, forty years ago, it manages in 99 minutes, over a period of 24 hours, to convey more about the complexities and cruelties of the time, than any number of historical textbooks.


A soldier is left behind in Catholic territory in Belfast by his equally wet-behind-the-ears commanding officer when their first mission to win hearts and minds goes horribly wrong. In the melee, guns are lost, and they are now being turned on him. The soldier runs for his life, with no idea of the lay of the land, in all senses of the phrase. In some ways, the story is very simple, but along the way, it reveals fracture lines not just between Catholic and Protestant, but also traditional IRA and the new Provisional IRA, the British Army and MI6, and within that, from man to man. Nothing is certain and no one can be trusted. The night unfolds unexpectedly but horribly plausibly.


The cinematography is realistic and immediate, a palette of browns and greys in the day, and at night, black and orange, sometimes flames, sometimes wallpaper.  Some of the filming is slightly grainy, reminiscent of old television footage, and you wonder how on earth they filmed the panoramic shots of houses on fire from afar without really burning them down. The scene where Catholic housewives, dressed neatly in skirts and court shoes, squat down to bang dustbin lids on the ground to summon their men, is as menacing as anything in a horror movie. Every death is upsetting.


The Good Friday agreement, in retrospect, almost seems inevitable, but for anyone who lived in Northern Ireland, or even London, in the seventies and eighties, it was not like that at all. The hatred towards the British felt by a significant proportion of Irish had been fed for more than 400 years. Harrods was blown up. Paddington Station was blown up. A solution felt impossible: the hatred was too entrenched. And yet, it happened by bringing all sides to the table and talking. Now, another enemy has emerged, which, like in Ireland, was begot in large part by British (and in this case) American imperialism and violence. All campaigns of terror are horrific, but so are all wars; and when David is fighting Goliath, terror is expedient. David Cameron has suggested using the word DAESH instead of ISIS, as it has connotations of criminality. Demonizing one’s opponents has been used many times to encourage people to kill each other.  I doubt it has ever brought people around a table to find peace. As this film shows, however terrible the situation, whatever people have done, they are still people.




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