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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 16:13 GMT
Brave attempt to tackle the Troubles
Scenes from the film Bloody Sunday
The film reconstructs the shootings in 1972
Dominic Casciani reviews Bloody Sunday, the dramatisation of one of the key moments of the Troubles.

It is impossible for most of us to appreciate the depths of horror and despair of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

But Paul Greengrass's gripping part-dramatisation, part-reconstruction of the events of Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, will go some towards capturing the emotions of a day that led to the deaths of 14 people.

They died when soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Londonderry. But given that the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday is yet to come anywhere near a conclusion as to what really happened, it is difficult to vouch for the accuracy of the events.

Greengrass' movie however both captures the character of Derry during the early days of the Troubles and the terror and confusion of one of the pivotal moments that swung Northern Ireland further towards violence and war.

Actor James Nesbitt (right), with John Kelly who lost his brother Michael in the shootings
James Nesbitt spoke to relatives of the victims
The film focuses on an extremely tight time frame of 24 hours and representatives of the main players of that day.

They include a civil rights leader, a teenager struggling to ignore the peer pressure to man the nationalist barricades, a young Para with doubts and a military commander under pressure to get results.

What you do not get is a lecture on the history of the Troubles. Instead, Greengrass tries to provide the context through snippets of radio reports, half-audible amid the naturalistic dialogue and commotion.

Coupled with the vivid realism of the filming - jerky, handheld, dimly lit - the film feels less like a dramatisation and more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

By the time the shooting starts, the frenetic camera work and cacophony of screams and bullets confuses and bewilders, the closest the film-makers could have got to being there.

The central character throughout is Ivan Cooper, one of the founder members of both the civil rights movement and the nationalist SDLP.

Cooper disappeared from the political spotlight within a few years of Bloody Sunday, apparently distraught with the collapse of a peaceful civil rights movement.

The most difficult issue with the film is the question of blame

James Nesbitt captures the eve of this loss of hope as Cooper organises the huge anti-internment protest but finishes the film predicting the whirlwind of violence that will come.

The most difficult issue with the film is the question of blame. Major-General Ford, played as an insouciant and somewhat blithe figure by Tim Pigott-Smith is egging the men on.

Colonel Wilford, the commanding officer on the streets played by Simon Mann, is characterised as hamstrung by his chief but a woefully poor decision-maker without him.

In between the two men is the experienced and knowing Brigadier MacLellan, played by Nicholas Farrell, who when confronted with predictions of chaos, is shown to prevaricate rather than challenge superiors.

In the years following Bloody Sunday, Col Wilford increasingly became convinced that he had been made the scapegoat. The film does not exonerate him, but neither does it accept he was wholly to blame.


There will be many people who will claim that the film-makers have inadequately explained the psychological pressures faced by the security forces and what part this may have played in a decision to open fire on unarmed protesters.

There will be others who will criticise the limited exploration of the IRA's presence in the city and how this influenced military thinking.

All that can be said to that is that there are many interpretations of truth in Northern Ireland and this film makes an oft forgotten point: Film can only ever be one version of the truth.

Greengrass and his team should be commended for a brave and moving film that shines with their honesty and integrity. It steers clear of crass generalisations and careless conclusions.

For those reasons alone, this film stands head and shoulders above any cinematic tackling of the Troubles to date.

Bloody Sunday will be shown on ITV on 20 January at 2200 GMT. It will be on general release at cinemas across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and on a limited release in the rest of the UK at a date to be confirmed.

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Reviews
Bloody Sunday: Your views
07 Jan 02 | Film
Praise for Bloody Sunday film
07 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Nesbitt speaks of Bloody Sunday impact
06 Jan 02 | Entertainment
Gala screening of Bloody Sunday film
21 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Bloody Sunday inquiry will not move
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