’71 tells the story of a young British soldier (Jack O’ Connell), part of a platoon deployed to Belfast on an emergency basis. After a failed raid he gets stuck on the wrong side of enemy lines, and becomes stranded far from his company. During his night of trying to get home he becomes a symbol in a war he has no real part in, fighting against friend and foe in attempt to get home.
O’ Connell shines in this gritty and real look at the troubles in Northern Ireland from an outside perspective. His performance is a very natural one, which works perfectly in a film where the troubles themselves are the real scene stealer. It is a credit to Yann Demange’s direction that the main character manages to be bypassed, and we see him as the symbol in the fighting that he is, and yet we care no less about him as a character.
Despite the inevitable politics of a story like this it’s still an action thriller, and there are no shortage of moments to make you gasp in shock or recoil in fear, the unsteady nature of life in Northern Ireland at that time embedded on screen throughout.
O’Connell recently won the Rising Star Award BAFTA, voted for by the public and demonstrative perhaps of a change in the sea of public school boy’s role in modern cinema (something I am in no way complaining about however, hello Tom Hiddleston). As well as this, ’71 is a film that seems at first to be from a British perspective, but in reality says so much more about the lives of the Irish people living through the troubles in 1971.
Last week I finally got to see Calvary, the second film from writer-director John Michael McDonagh whose first film The Guard was a black comedy about the police in Ireland. Calvary however, as McDonagh himself puts it, is “in the same darkly comedic vein as The Guard, but with a much more serious and dramatic narrative.”
The film follows a week in the life of priest Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) after he is told during confession that he will be killed the following Sunday by a man who was abused by a priest as a child. As the week goes on the priest comes to terms with this threat, and attempts to work out who in his parish would be willing and able to kill him, coming up with little evidence against any of them. It’s a beautifully woven examination of the decline of the Catholic church in rural Ireland as well as showing just how far reaching the frissons of the sex scandals are.
Brendan Gleeson is nothing short of outstanding as the priest attempting to remain the one good thing in a parish falling apart, especially as his parishioners are so keen to show him just how bad they’ve become. Asking him about God, telling him horrific stories that would make anyone question their faith, all delivered in an attempt to get a reaction out of him, like children showing their parent a dead animal on the side of the road as though to say “look how awful it all is”. Gleeson’s performance is beautifully measured, and he says more in moments of silence than some actors say in a lifetime of memorised lines.
All of this visceral and raw emotion is set against the backdrop of beautiful County Sligo, it’s beaches and it’s countryside juxtaposing with the depravity of the characters in the film – a coke snorting housewife bored and looking for destruction, the atheist doctor smoking outside the hospital, the aristocrat addled by money. But the daughter of the priest (Kelly Reilly), with her bandaged wrists (“you’re meant to cut down”) and eyes full of sorrow is the most poignant of all. Lavelle’s character is a Father in so many senses of the word.
With stunning cinematography from Larry Smith and a cast full of strong peformances from the likes of Chris O’ Dowd, Dylan Moran and Kelly Reilly, Calvary is something really special.
If you missed it in cinemas make sure you catch it when it comes to DVD, and in the meantime you can buy The Guardhere.
I was lucky enough to see Calvary at The Rex in Wareham, Dorset’s oldest continuously working cinema with friendly staff and lots of character. Check it out!