DIR: Yann Demange • WRI: Gregory Burke • PRO: Robin Gutch, Angus Lamont • DOP: Tat Radcliffe • ED: Chris Wyatt • DES: Chris Oddy • MUS: Joseph Bishara • CAST: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard
Brit-grit: where the pints are cloudy, ceramic stained and even the most bare bones of human moments are wrung dry for the greatest amount of drama. It’s an aesthetic perhaps more evident in British television than cinema this past decade, having crept in so subliminally alongside miniseries such as Red Riding, Five Daughters and Southcliffe that to even term it a “movement” would belie the subtlety of it.
In Yann Demange’s debut feature ’71, this brand of social realism is served in the style of a tense war-time thriller. Gary Hook, a fresh-faced private in the British Army, is dropped into the middle of a divided Belfast city at the height of the generational conflict that would become rather euphemistically known as “the Troubles”.
When a heavy-handed search for IRA weapons along the Falls Road spills over into full-blown riot, Hook is accidentally stranded “behind enemy lines”; from here we kick into a gear that scarcely lets up, a city of red-brick tenements not a million miles from Hook’s own suddenly hostile territory harbouring enemy dissidents only too happy to gun down the British uniform without seeing the shit-scared youth wearing it.
In hands less deft, it’s a premise that could have easily come across as jingoistic. However, with an excellent script from Gregory Burke, ’71 is instead both a sensory survival story and a surprisingly subtle look at the clashing ideals that fuelled the conflict, from the unthinking religious hatred underpinning it all to the vying factions within the IRA itself, spurred on by an undercover British unit intent on de-stabilising the city even further.
Even amongst a cast consisting of some of the best Irish and English talent assembled in a long while, Jack O’ Connell is a standout. Graduating from his usual stint as the troubled teen with a smart mouth and thuggish tendencies, he brings compelling delicacy to an unquestioning soldier buffeted about by events beyond his control.
Though viewers unfamiliar with the context of the subject matter are unlikely to come out any more informed than they went in, they’ll be left breathless either way. If the subject matter is perhaps a little bleak, the fact that it is a silver screen debut for both writer and directly should certainly inspire optimism.
15A (See IFCO for details)
’71 is released 10th October 2014