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Taut docudrama about a group of TV journalists who set out to prove that six Irish nationals were framed in the 1974 bombing of two Birmingham pubs. Based on same case as IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER. Written by Rob Ritchie. Made for cable
A compelling drama about a shocking miscarriage of justice
While international audiences would be familiar with the case of the Guildford Four thanks to Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father, the case of the Birmingham Six drew as much attention in Britain and Ireland throughout the 1980s and 90s.
On the night of November 21, 1974, five Irish immigrants with families in Birmingham, England - four from Belfast, one from Derry - were arrested as they prepared to return to Northern Ireland.
The five men were heading back to Belfast for the funeral of an IRA man, James McDaid killed by his own bomb in the West Midlands city of Coventry.
As they made their way to Lancashire to catch the ferry back to Belfast, the IRA set off two bombs in two pubs, the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern killing 21 people and injuring more than 160 in Birmingham city centre. Many of the dead and injured were Irish.
A sixth man was later arrested and confessions were extracted from some of them by infamous West Midlands Crime Squad following their arrests.
There was widespread revulsion at the attack and the men received heavy sentences despite withdrawing their confessions and claiming police brutality at their trial.
However, following a campaign by the men's families, investigative journalists, Catholic church leaders, politicians and human rights activists, people began to believe the six - Richard McIlkenny, Paddy Joe Hill, Johnny Walker, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Hughie Callaghan - were innocent.
Questions were raised about the tactics deployed by the West Midlands investigators to extract confessions out of the men, with allegations of police brutality and dubious forensic test results.
The case also had reverberations for the British legal system after an unsuccessful appeal and allegations that the judiciary, as in the case of the Guildford Four, did not want to admit to a miscarriage of justice.
'Who Bombed Birmingham?,' as this film was known in Britain, was screened a year before the eventual quashing of the convictions of the Six.
The docudrama was made by Granada Television in England and based around the company's (now sadly departed) current affairs programme 'World In Action''s efforts to uncover the truth of what happened.
It takes as its basis the book by British Labour MP, Chris Mullin (played with tremendous commitment by John Hurt) and follows his dogged attempts to trace the real bombers.
However, it also uses flashbacks and follows the current affairs team's attempts to prove the men's innocence by querying the reliability of the forensic evidence.
The film also provides one of the most realistic screen depictions of what it is like to work on an investigative reporting programme, as the team interviews people and tries to disprove the tests.
The result is a powerful television movie which really set the standard for subsequent British TV docudramas based on real events like Peter Kozminsky's 'Shoot to Kill' and Jimmy McGovern's 'Hillsborough'.
The three leads, Hurt, Roger Allam as 'World In Action' journalist Charles Tremayne and Martin Shaw as his producer Ian McBride give spirited performances at the core of the film.
But the film is marked by distinguished performances from an accomplished British and Irish cast.
The six - played by Ciaran Hinds, Niall Tobin, Brendan Laird, Niall O'Brien, Vincent Murphy and Brendan Cauldwell - all give heartbreaking performances and there is also some splendid comic interplay between them.
Bob Peck, Terence Rigby and John Woodvine provide fascinating portrayals of different faces of the law.
But where the film really chills is in its depiction of the real life bombers - most notably, John Kavanagh's depiction of the IRA gang's bombmaker, Donal McCann's resentful republican and Sean McGinley's tortured terrorist.
One sequence which merits special mention is the scene where Hurt's Mullin confronts McGinley's tortured soul and hears his account of what happened.
This is an intelligent movie which is every bit as well made and powerful as In the Name of the Father.
It is all the more important because it also contributed to the release of the six men - revealing on prime time television the names of the real life bombers as well as new evidence that the police knew all along the identities of the men who carried out the attack.
Put simply, 'Who Bombed Birmingham' is a British television classic.
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