A Belfast Story explores life after terrorism. Set in a city which has weathered hundreds of years of hatred, 30 years of bombs, and a war without winners, just victims. A new era brings new risks. There is peace, but that can also be deadly.
A Belfast Story is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th January and thanks to the good people at Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, we have copies of the DVD to giveaway.
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Who directed A Belfast Story?
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In A Belfast Story, Colm Meaney stars as a man weary of doing right. Times are changing, car bombs are less common and terrorists find themselves out of work, but old habits die hard. And while most go quietly into the night, he must find the few who won’t comply. Haunted by his own past failures, he knows that he may only get one last chance to repeat the same mistake, and this time, the blood will be on his hands.
When a series of murders awaken dormant memories, many fear the worst. A greying assassin has stopped walking his son to school, purely precautionary. And his old comrades are also refusing to die gracefully. Someone is laying plans for the future, but first they must secure the present.
Gripping characters, fiercely intelligent action, and deadly consequences… A Belfast Story is a film about the passing of a way of life… and the dangers that brings, because in Ireland:
DIR/WRI: Nathan Todd • PRO: John Todd • DOP: Peter Holland • ED: John Wright • DES: Nigel Pollock • Cast: Colm Meaney, Malcolm Sinclair, Tommy O’Neill, Paddy Rocks
Former engineering student Nathan Todd makes his debut as writer and director with A Belfast Story, a film from Northern Ireland about the continuing effects of the Troubles. It centres on the killings of former IRA men. Colm Meaney plays a loyalist detective called in to investigate.
A Belfast Story plays like an episode of a low-key television detective drama. All the usual elements are present: the world-weary detective, continuing brutal murders as the police try to work out who’s responsible, and glimpses of the killers’ activities. We see newspapers cuttings pinned to walls, joined together with red yarn; open books strewn over the floor. The whodunit aspect might have worked if the handling was not so amateurish.
Todd uses the premise to vent contemporary concerns about ex-killers working in government, blurring the lines between right and wrong. But his first screenplay ignores a cardinal rule in film: “Show, don’t tell.” Too often, his characters engage in longwinded polemics, and Detective Meaney indulges in verbose monologues. The film might have worked as a thriller, but pacing suffers from its overwritten script. The clichés become tiresome: “It’s a dangerous world out there.” “All I want is a bright new day.”
Handling of action scenes also leaves much to be desired. A night-time chase on a suburban street features close-ups and zooming shots of innocent passers-by à la Sergio Leone, but it engenders laughter, not tension. A flashback sequence featuring a little girl crying amid the carnage lacks the required conviction. It’s easy to discern the desired effect, but execution is wanting.
The killings include the shooting of a shopkeeper among his mannequins in a shop window, the execution of three men in a field, and the murder of a former IRA commander with concrete blocks. Todd strives to display some visual flair and style in these sequences, with their conscientious framing and cutting, but his approach glamorises violence rather than condemning it.
Meaney appears to play a central role, but the killings begin to take up more screen time, and the film becomes muddled with underdeveloped subplots involving the chief constable (Malcolm Sinclair), First Minister (Tommy O’Neill), his aide (Susan Davey), and former IRA members (Paddy Rocks and Maggie Cronin).
“We need something new … not just the same tired old thing,” says Meaney. The press pack included a balaclava, nails and a roll of duct tape. The controverisal publicity was novel, but the film’s treatment of the choice in Northern Ireland between reconciliation and retribution isn’t.
DIR: Declan Lowney WRI: Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons DOP: Ben Smithard ED: Mark Everson DES: Dick Lunn Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall
If you were to analyse it from a critical standpoint, you would have to come to the conclusion that the history of British TV comedies transferring to the big-screen has been rather patchy. While there have been plenty of successes down through the years – the various films by the Monty Python crew being obvious examples – there have also been plenty of failed attempts to embody the spirit that was initially captured in its original format.
2002’s Ali G Indahouse was a misfire, and as recently as last year, we had Keith Lemon: The Film, which featured prominently on the ‘Worst Of 2012’ lists for many notable film critics.
Whenever films of this nature are released, there is always a huge amount of expectation from the loyal fans who helped to make the television series so popular in the first place, and it is no surprise that they are met with such derision when the finished product falls below the standards that were originally set.
The same sort of anticipation surrounds the arrival of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s most celebrated creation, to the silver screen for the first time in the intriguingly titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which finds the narcissistic Norwich broadcaster hosting Mid Morning Matters alongside his trusty ally, Side-Kick Simon (Tim Key).
Unlike films like Bean (the first of two cinematic outings for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean), Borat and Bruno (the latter two proving more successful for the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen), Coogan and his team of writers have resisted the temptation for sending Partridge to America (and thus making this a ‘fish out of water’ tale), and have instead kept him in the familiar terrain of his home city.
Indeed, much of the film (which is perfectly paced and constructed at 90 minutes) takes place within the confines of the Norfolk Digital Radio station, which is being re-branded as ‘Shape’ by a new multinational conglomerate. As a result of this takeover, late-night Irish DJ Pat Farrell (played by our own Colm Meaney) finds himself surplus to requirements, and after receiving his P45 from the station, he arrives at an office party armed with a shotgun, and proceeds to keep the employees of the station (and some members of the conglomerate) hostage.
Despite initially fleeing the scene, Alan Partridge is forced to re-enter the station, as he is the only person that Farrell is willing to speak to, and as a media frenzy starts to develop around the siege, Partridge finds himself thrust back into the media spotlight, with the former Knowing Me, Knowing You host only too willing to capitalise on a unique opportunity to boost his flagging profile.
Along with the return of the titular character, Felicity Montagu is also back as Partridge’s long-suffering assistant Lynn Benfield, while Simon Greenall’s Michael The Geordie has progressed from being a hotel worker and petrol station attendant in I’m Alan Partridge to the position of security guard at Norfolk Digital.
Side-kick Simon was also established in the recent web-based Mid Morning Matters mockumentary series, and with these much-adored characters back in the saddle, there is plenty for Partridge devotees to love about Alpha Papa. The wit and humour of his TV incarnations have also remained intact, but the filmmakers have worked overtime to ensure that they aren’t simply re-capping old material, and have made a film that is accessible to punters who have limited knowledge of a character that has been in the public domain since 1991.
By now, Coogan is so comfortable in his role as Partridge, that it doesn’t even seem like he is acting. He has shown in his other work (particular under the direction of Michael Winterbottom) that he is a fine actor with plenty of range, but this is the one role that he will always be remembered for. The new additions to the cast all adapt to the environment with a great deal of gusto, none more so than Meaney, who has to hold his own as a jilted, dinosaur Disc Jockey.
The former Star Trek star isn’t the only Irish involvement in making of Alpha Papa, however, as Wexford native Declan Lowney (who is best known for his work on Father Ted) is in the director’s chair, and there is also a supporting turn from Simon Delaney as one of the special forces operatives who are aiming to bring the siege to a satisfactory conclusion.
With jokes and set-pieces coming thick and fast at the audience, it is unsurprising that not everything in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa comes off in the way that you might hope, and though a huge effort has been made to ensure that the style of the film is cinematic, there are still some televisual touches to the overall product.
However, Coogan and co-writer Armando Iannucci (who has past form in transporting a TV series into the medium of cinema with The Thick Of It spin-off In The Loop), as well as the remaining three contributors to the finished script, have far too much affection for the character of Partridge (and indeed for the city of Norwich itself) to let their guard down, and with many quotable lines – “I am siege face” being one of the memorable – as well as some moments of genuine poignancy, Coogan & Co. have managed to deliver the goods on a project that had been in the pipeline for close to a decade.
Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.
Ciaran Creagh (Parked) on the learning curve he faced moving from writing for the stage to film.
Quentin Tarantino once said that ‘if I really considered myself a writer, I wouldn’t be writing screenplays. I’d be writing novels.’ These words do hold some resonance for me because I have always been somewhat uneasy with the label ‘writer’. Perhaps this discomfort stems from a lack of formal training or that I have never studied English at college. However, I suspect it might be a nervousness about proclaiming publicly that I am a writer without having the established credentials to back up this claim.
Initially, for a reason that now escapes me, I started writing about 10 years ago and concentrated exclusively on playwriting. Seldom were earnest thoughts of writing a screenplay entertained. In a way, I think the solitude or even the selfishness of writing a play is the real attraction where, until intensive rehearsals begin, the script is exclusively yours. When I did decide to seriously tackle a screenplay, I was somewhat unaware of what lay ahead.
Writing is writing, you might have thought, but that is clearly not the case. I suppose it is a normal progression for a playwright to move sideways into screenwriting and I happily set about this, unaware of the learning curve involved. Thanks to the internet, you can quickly find out the rules and methods, what you should and shouldn’t do, and deliver the American three-act masterpiece where the hero wins out against adversity. Maybe that is what a producer is looking for but you must be so careful not to lose your direction and creativity in order to conform.
My own particular style is to write long. This is how I wrote for theatre and perhaps I find comfort in lots of action and dialogue. The key for me in crafting a screenplay is the edit where I continually revise the script, cutting dialogue and action. A script that I am currently working on had 123 pages on the first draft, was cut to 58 on the second and is now at 79 with the aim of adding an additional 12 to 14 pages. Perhaps the pragmatic thing to do would be to plan, write the treatment and shorten this process. But that, to be honest, would not be me.
It should not be underestimated how difficult it is to change from writing for the stage to writing for film. In an average play you might have two to five scenes as compared to over one hundred in an average screenplay. This corresponds to a significant amount of turning points, linked scenes and tonal ambience to contend with. On the stage, given the constraints of a live performance space, dialogue drives to the core of conflict. I have always loved dialogue and this was probably the most difficult change for me to make. Less is just so much more in film.
To be in development is the manna for scriptwriters but I do wonder sometimes if this is the best place to be. For your career it certainly is, but for the creative process, I remain unconvinced because of the constraints imposed by the other interested parties during the process. The Irish Film Board’s concept of first-draft loans to writers is fantastic and allows writers the space to get an idea fully formed and ready for the onward march towards production. Once you have been though this process you soon realise that the script is no longer yours and you just have to let it go. Understanding this is perhaps the key from the writer’s perspective and gives the script the best chance of making it to the big screen.
Once the writer makes it through this psychological barrier and becomes immersed in the production, a whole new level of learning begins and the experience, while difficult, can be wonderful. You soon realise that the other players in the development and production cycle are not there to scupper the script but that the script has gained a new raft of parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins who want to protect, nurture and give the script its best chance at life. When you sit there in the darkened cinema as the film finishes and the credits roll, it is then you realise how vital and beneficial this process has been for the script.
The Winter Issue of Film Ireland will be with Filmbase members, subscribers and on the shelves of newsagents across the country next week.
Jamie Hannigan talks to Colm Meaney about his role in Parked, Anna Rodgers catches up with legendary documentary filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams), Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan TD outlines his plans for office to Niamh Creely, Ross Whitaker chats with Asif Kapadia about the making of Senna, and we preview the 2012 DCNYF Chinese Film Festival.
With the Corona Cork Film Festival taking place in November we feature Gerard Hurley’s The Pier, Ben River’s Slow Action and Steve Sanguedolce’s Blinding.
We are delighted to announce a new regular piece from a member of the Irish Society of Cinematographers plus we have all our regular news, On Set reports, reviews, directors and writers guild pages, equipment reviews and more.
To find out which retailers stock Film Ireland click here
Alessandro Molatore reports from the set of ‘Parked’, a new feature starring Colm Meaney.
During Ireland’s coldest January for 25 years the last sight local walkers expected to see was a film crew shooting in an exposed Dublin Bay car park. The four-week shoot for Parked kicked off with six days in the coastal car park in the centre of Dublin’s expansive, semicircular bay. The area is essentially industrial, dominated by the two tall chimneys of the electrical power station that are a distinctive landmark of the nation’s capital. Exposed to all of the elements – gale force onshore winds, rain and snow, sand and sleet – it makes for an inhospitable shooting environment, but one that suits the story perfectly.
The fiction debut of documentary director Darragh Byrne, Parked centres on Fred Daly, a man who returns to his hometown after spending many years away and has nowhere to live but the car he arrives in. Fred is played by Irish acting legend Colm Meaney. ‘Fred doesn’t like to be an outsider,’ comments Meaney. ‘He very much wants to blend in. He wants to be part of something but he is not quite sure how to do it.’ A proud man, whose life has shrunk to a series of mundane routines, Fred’s world is opened up by the arrival of Cathal, a chaotic, dope-smoking 21-year-old who also pulls up in the car park and makes it his home.
Producer Dominic Wright explains, ‘Parked reflects a very real way of life for many people. The global economic crisis means there are lot of people out there in a similar situation to Fred who find themselves suddenly with no job and no real home to speak of, looking for a way back into society. The “mobile homeless” is a very real phenomenon. Parked could be anyone’s story.’ Colm Meaney agrees, ‘This could take place anywhere. It’s a universal story. There are people living like this all over the world. I don’t think this is particularly an Irish reality.’