The 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)
A Terrible Beauty
Sat, 16th February
The docu-drama A Terrible Beauty is a surprisingly tender and tragic portrayal of the human side of the Easter 1916 Rising
The film avoids the main figures we normally associate with The Rising and instead tells the little-known stories of ordinary soldiers on both sides of the conflict, mixing archive footage with dramatic reconstructions and eyewitness accounts with contemporary interviews. The film cleverly uses first-hand records in order to present the authentic voices of the Irish Volunteers, the British soldiers and the civilians caught up in two of the biggest battles that occurred during the Rising – on Northumberland Road and North King St.
Director Keith Farrell told the audience in the post screening Q&A that in the past, the leaders of the Rising had been focused on again and again; whereas in this film, he said, he wanted to focus on ordinary men – one of whom was Michael Malone (a carpenter by trade), “who commanded his troops brilliantly.” Michael Malone was 28 when he was killed in action on the Wednesday of the Rising. He is buried in the Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Malone led his men defending No25 Northumberland Road on Easter Monday, where many British soldiers of the 59th North Midlands Division marching up that street met their deaths when they were shot upon by the 17 volunteers who were positioned on the street.
On North King St on Dublin’s north side of the Liffey, the South Staffordshire regiment of the British Army suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the Irish Volunteers, ill prepared it seems for urban combat. As a response, General Lowe ordered retaliation be swift and gave the order to ‘take no prisoners’ – as a result, troops broke into the homes of locals on North King Street and shot or bayoneted 15 civilian men and young boys whom they accused of being rebels.
The film’s director Keith Farrell told how he was able to draw on first-hand accounts of Irish volunteers who had been involved in the Rising that had been released in 2005 by the Irish government and also researched the Sherwood Foresters Regiment archive, and testimonies of eye-witnesses to create the events of the film told at first hand. Farrell also praised 2 books by the Irish military historian Paul O’Brien, describing them as “incredibly invaluable”.
A Terrible Beauty captures the reality of the young soldiers and puts a focus on the tragic loss of life on both sides and it is to the film’s credit that it never seeks to triumphalise the spoils of battle.
The night’s event took on a more significant meaning when the crowd were introduced to Jack and Frank Shouldice’s sons, Chris and Frank Jr, who were both in the audience and contributed to a lively post-screening discussion. They recalled how their fathers, who both fought during Easter Week 1916, were gentle men who had to fight in terrible conditions. Both men went on to become pacifists –not participating in the Civil War that was to follow the Rising.