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'Love Lies Bleeding' is an early work from British director Michael
Winterbottom for the BBC in what has been an impressive cannon of work for
film and television.
Winterbottom made a name for himself in British television, directing episodes of Jimmy McGovern's psychological crime series 'Cracker' and Roddy Doyle's brilliant dysfunctional Dublin housing estate drama 'Family'.
'Love Lies Bleeding,' which aired in Britain as the IRA was about to declare its 1994 ceasefire, authentically recreates the internal tensions and small world inhabited by Irish republicans in Belfast.
Conn, a former IRA hunger striker who has served 12 years in the high security Maze Jail, is given weekend parole as peace talks take place between the Irish Republican leadership and the British government.
But instead of enjoying his brief taste of freedom in a much changed Belfast, he is hellbent on vengeance for the murder of his girlfriend, Layla.
The film follows Conn as he tries to piece together the events which led to Layla's death in a Protestant loyalist area of Belfast.
However, Winterbottom drags Conn and his audience into a cloak and dagger world of Northern Irish para-militarism where not everything is as straightforward as it seems.
Belfast novelist Ronan Bennett delivers a tightly written, confident and uncompromising thriller.
Bennett is extremely comfortable writing about his native city - deploying Belfast black humour to wicked effect and mimicking accurately the language of the Irish republican "family".
He also strives to be fair in his depiction of loyalist para-militaries, showing there are bad apples on either side.
English Shakespearean actor, Mark Rylance gives an assured performance in the anchor role of Conn, making him a tortured, emotionally blunted fringe player in the Troubles.
But the film also boasts an exceptional performance by Brendan Gleeson as Thomas - the republican leader destined for greater things.
Watch out also for strong supporting performances from George Shane as Conn's da Gerry, James Nesbitt as Niall, John Kavanagh as the drunk Sean Kerrigan, Robert Patterson as Artie Flynn and Tony Doyle as loyalist prisoner, Geordie Wilson.
Winterbottom's film is all the better for its use of real Belfast locations - capturing the damp, smoky feel of the city in early winter and the watery morning sunlight.
The director's experimentation with the language of cinema and different film stock in 'Wonderland' can also be seen in this picture.
'Love Lies Bleeding' puts other celluloid depictions of the Northern Irish Troubles in the shade. A measure of its class is in the scene where Conn comes face to face in a loyalist club with Lily, the widow of a man killed by his comrades in the IRA.
At the time it was screened, it was by far the best Northern Ireland drama since Neil Jordan's 'Angel'. High recommendation indeed. This deserves a video and DVD release.
Another dark and gritty film belmed by Michael Winterbottom, this time set
in the tangle and poverty of Belfast, not where one would expect this
Oxbridge director to appear.
Mark Rylance (Angels & Insects) gives a superb and challenging performance as Conn, a murderer who has served 12 years and is let out for a 24 hr pass to spend with his family. His mind says the political struggle is behind him but he is obsessed with revenge for his lover Laile.
His 24 hr journey goes from Catholic to Orange territory and back and weaves through the infolded divisiveness that is the state of Northern Ireland. But politics is not the issue, nor violence; instead, nothing is simply laid out. The low key speaking voices and the twisting plot make this film difficult to follow at times but its insistence at keeping at Conn's level and avoidance of exploding the issue work to maintain a superior psychological portrait.
Another realist portrait by Winterbottom and another success.
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