Smrithika Majukar reviews Baltimore‘s tale of Rose Dugdale, the British heiress-turned-IRA member.

Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s latest film, Baltimore, starts off with Rose Dugdale (Imogen Poots) lying on the floor of Russborough House, narrating how she landed up there. The film tells the infamous true story of English heiress Rose Dugdale – a sceptic of the upper-class customs she was born into, and sympathiser of the working class. Asked to quell her anger by her family, Rose’s sympathy grows into rebellion, and she attracts a tribe of radical revolutionaries during her time at Oxford. Devastated and wrathful at the violence in Northern Ireland, she protests. After stealing from her family home to raise funds for the IRA, she eventually joins them. In 1974, she attempts her biggest heist yet: to rob millions of pounds worth of paintings from the Russborough House. 

While jarring at first, the fragmented narrative weaves together a picture that’s much bigger than the heist and the politics that surround it. In the events that follow, a pregnant Rose hides in Cork. There she and her comrades attract attention from a kind local farmer Domhnall (Dermot Crowley) and a nosy shopkeeper who may or may not have heard Rose making threatening calls to the National Gallery. Picturing every worst-case scenario, Rose takes all precautions. She plans escape routes, sends her comrades away to safety and digs a grave ready for a potential forethought kill. However, her maternal instinct tames her disposition for violence: instead of killing the nearly-blind Domhnall out of suspicion, she threatens and spares him. It’s Domhnall then who eventually leads the Gardai to Rose. 

Baltimore’s impact is elevated by the technical finesse in its cinematography. Close-up shots serve to zoom in on her talking to her unborn child, while simultaneously reassuring herself of how she will make this world a better place for her baby. In tandem, the wide shots of the breathtaking Irish terrain serve to place Rose in a vaster world, to emphasise her belief – that she is part of something much bigger than herself. The performances by the entire cast convey the weight each character carries. Imogen Poots’ portrayal of Rose Dugdale is commanding, intense, and compelling. Dominic (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Martin (Lewis Brophy) in their performances as aggressive IRA soldiers who also care for Rose and each other, deliver a duality that is simply outstanding. 

The sound design in the thrilling action sequences is reminiscent of Don’t Worry Darling (2022); it creeps up and closes in to stress the urgency of being watched. The set design – especially the paintings – serve a unique purpose in highlighting Rose’s privileged upbringing. She has reverence for the artwork, and finds comfort in the pieces post-heist, which makes one wonder if she is, ironically, more at home in this chaos. The evolution of the costume design marks how Rose sheds her aristocratic skin for her activism, highlighting the time jumps in the fragmented narrative. However, in all of this back and forth between the events of the heist and Rose’s upbringing and eventual rebellion, the narrative is missing some of the crucial moments in Rose’s radicalisation. 

Baltimore, like most heist movies, is told from the perspective of an anti-hero. But Rose Dugdale is so much more complex. She is a pregnant, lonely, misunderstood, angry woman who dedicated her life to radicalism that constantly threatens her. You may not agree with her, but you will feel for her. 

Baltimore is in cinemas from 22nd March 2024.


Podcast: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor, Co-Directors & Writers of ‘Baltimore’

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