Neil Jordan's historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army during the Irish Civil War.
During the Depression, Jimmy Gralton returns home to Ireland after ten years of exile in America. Seeing the levels of poverty and oppression, the activist in him reawakens and he looks to re-open the dance hall that led to his deportation.
In 1920, rural Ireland is the vicious battlefield of republican rebels against the British security forces and Irish Unionist population who oppose them, a recipe for mutual cruelty. Medical graduate Damien O'Donovan always gave priority to his socialist ideals and simply helping people in need. Just when he's leaving Ireland to work in a highly reputed London hospital, witnessing gross abuse of commoners changes his mind. he returns and joins the local IRA brigade, commanded by his brother Teddy, and adopts the merciless logic of civil war, while Teddy mellows by experiencing first-hand endless suffering. When IRA leaders negotiate an autonomous Free State under the British crown, Teddy defends the pragmatic best possible deal at this stage. Damien however joins the large seceding faction which holds nothing less than a socialist republic will do. The result is another civil war, bloodily opposing former Irish comrades in arms, even the brothers. Written by
See the film or watch the DVD - do not miss this unique opportunity.
An admirer of Ken Loach's unique style of film making, I say this is the best I've seen. His direction and techniques are now so finely tuned they sit almost subliminally behind a brutal but superlative story set in 1920s Ireland. I say 'almost' because I came out knowing I've never seen a film like this ever before, thanks to Loach.
Approach it as if you are about to watch a play. Listen intently to the dialogue complete with Cork accents depicting beautiful people forced into situations where they cross lines they cannot return over. Share in their juxtaposition of feelings of remorse with acts of war/self-preservation. In the horror of it all you might wish to be able to suspend disbelief in the fictional sense, but that'll be replaced with the overwhelming sense of truth and a not-so-long-ago reality. The individuals could be you or I at anytime and we take solace in the fact that perhaps we are among the lucky ones to have escaped this. Make space then to contemplate if, as a nation, we still effect this turmoil on others today. Remain with the story though. You feel as if you are there, smelling the turf in the air, privileged to be on the doorstep of the thatched residence that witnessed so many tragedies.
The character portrayals are mesmerising as Loach maximises body language; hesitancy, fear, stuttering and small moments of humour in his realistic approach. You already know each character before s/he speaks. But when they do speak, you are in the room with them agreeing or disagreeing - ready to pitch in if the moment were to present itself. As each personal struggle is revealed you again feel fortunate to have witnessed it. Simultaneously you feel relieved to be able to pull out and watch from a distance when more horror action scenes unfold.
This is true drama seeking no false gratification akin to other current films. Unstinting in its portrayal of the Brutish (not a spelling mistake) it is nevertheless universally significant and local at the same time. The photography is exquisite capturing timeless Ireland. The sound plays the noises of the times so well the viewers could imagine the scenes with their eyes closed.
As a Scot I am dismayed at the general poor response/reviews of the British press and I'm reminded that the British psyche has to learn to come to terms with its recent past. I wish that today we could transcend that and promote this film to ordinary people as an important film to see at some point in their lives. In future, any young adult asking me about the 'Irish problem' - I'll simply lend them my own personal DVD of this film and say "watch this!" It'll make it all the more easier for all of us to see the past and to avoid repeating it.
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