Filmmakers Take on a Post Troubles Northern Ireland
By Mark Connelly, author of ‘The IRA on Film and Television’
Filmmakers found the IRA and the Troubles of Northern Ireland a rich source of stories and characters, from Carol Reed’s classic Odd Man Out to The Crying Game and In the Name of the Father. During the decade between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, the IRA provided heroes and villains for American action movies such as Patriot Games, Blown Away, and The Jackal.
Following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, writers and directors began exploring a post-Troubles Northern Ireland. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) focuses on the lasting impact of violence on its survivors. Liam Neeson portrays Alistair Little, a fifty year old peace activist haunted by the murder of a Catholic he committed as an eager seventeen year old Loyalist. A television program arranges for him to meet Joe Griffin (James Nesbitt), the younger brother of his victim, for an on-air reconciliation.
Unlike other films set in Northern Ireland that create a sense of claustrophobia with scenes of narrow streets, cramped row houses, checkpoints, and walls, Five Minutes of Heaven shows Alistair Little walking through large, open squares. Trains and jet planes appear in the distance, suggesting an openness to the outer world. Belfast is no longer depicted as an embattled warren of barricades and barbed wire but a busy European city populated by consumers and commuters.
While Little is prepared to seek forgiveness, Griffin, seething with resentment, wants revenge and plans to stab Little on television to earn his “five minutes of heaven.” The proposed broadcast never occurs. A knock-down drag-out fight leaves both men exhausted, with Little telling Griffin that he is not worth hating. After attending a group therapy session, Griffin calls Little and simply states, “We’re finished.” Little is left walking aimlessly in a large plaza. The Troubles have ended, but the survivors are left damaged and tormented.
Three films released in 2006 explore the inability of IRA veterans to cope in a post-Troubles world. In Johnny Was, Forty-Eight Angels, and I.R.A. King of Nothing disgruntled veterans, disillusioned by compromise and the loss of a cause to fight for, attempt one-man attacks “to get things going again.” In all three movies the malcontents are killed to maintain peace, suggesting that the Troubles have not ended but are merely suspended, with the IRA waiting in the wings for a fresh opportunity to strike.
Born in Philadelphia, Mark Connelly completed a masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he received a Ph.D in English. His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets: The Fiction of Charles Jackson, and several college textbooks. He currently teaches literature and film in Milwaukee, where he is the Vice-President of the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center of Wisconsin.
His latest book is The IRA on Film and Television.
You can visit his website at www.theiraonfilmandtelevision.com.
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About the Book:
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has for decades pursued the goal of unifying its homeland into a single sovereign nation, ending British rule in Northern Ireland. On film, the IRA has appeared in mainstream motion pictures such as The Quiet Man, action films like Blown Away, political dramas, dark comedies, and even a spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dynamite. The IRA has been explored by major directors from three countries, including John Ford (The Informer), John Frankenheimer (Ronin), Carol Reed (Odd Man Out), David Lean (Ryan’s Daughter), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins), and Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father). IRA characters have been portrayed by international stars, such as Victor McLaglen, James Cagney, Anthony Hopkins, James Mason, Richard Gere, and Brad Pitt. Films about the Irish Republican Army range from realistic docudramas like Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, shot with handheld cameras and natural lighting to create the sensation of watching 1972 newsreel footage, to Joseph Merhi’s action farce Riot in which a British superhero battles IRA bikers in the streets of Los Angeles during a race riot.
Whether portrayed as a heroic patriot, ruthless terrorist, or troubled anti-hero, the Irish rebel has emerged as a universally recognized cinematic archetype. Over eighty motion pictures include IRA references, and IRA characters have appeared in iconic American television series such as Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, and Law and Order.
This illustrated history analyzes film depictions of the IRA from the 1916 Easter Rising to the peace process of the 1990s. Topics include America’s role in creating both the IRA and its cinematic image, the organization’s brief association with the Nazis, the changing depiction of women in IRA films, and critical reception of IRA films in Ireland, Britain, and the United States.