Christy Taylor reviews Lyra, a profound portrait of an inspiring writer.
Lyra McKee was killed on the 18th April 2019, shot during a riot in Creggan, Derry. This is where Alison Millar’s documentary Lyra starts. It is a startling, gut-wrenching opening of a film that goes on to be as funny and heartwarming as it is devastating and upsetting. It is a celebration of Lyra’s life and the incredible things she achieved before her death at the age of 29, while also serving as a reminder of what her death meant and how those affected hope that this could be a catalyst for change in Northern Ireland.
The film is an intimate portrait of McKee. Director Alison Millar is a family friend, giving the film both a level of access that would not be possible otherwise, and – more importantly – giving Lyra’s family a chance to tell their story. Millar brilliantly weaves together footage she has filmed with the McKee family with an array of archival material, creating a strong sense not only of Lyra herself, but of her family and community that made and inspired her.
The film focuses on some of McKee’s most noteworthy work: articles that brought to the forefront of what the Troubles meant to younger generations in Northern Ireland, and how the consequences are still felt today.
While the subjects of her articles were dark, McKee’s love for her home always remained at the heart of her work. Rather than despairing, she wrote with hope. Hope for justice, hope for progress, hope that the
promises that had been made after the Good Friday Agreement would come to fruition.
Perhaps this is the film’s greatest strength. Telling such a tragic story, it would be easy to despair. Instead, the film embraces McKee’s infectious positivity. Millar has made a film that not only pays tribute to a life that was worth celebrating but more importantly it has carried on the legacy left by McKee. Lyra is a film that is unafraid to examine some of the darkest parts of Northern Ireland and the heritage of the Troubles, but does so in order to find hope. This is a film that is not simply about Lyra McKee but a film that is in itself emblematic of what Lyra McKee wrote for.
Lyra screened on 7th November 2021 as part of the Cork International Film Festival.