The Troubles was perhaps the most turbulent conflict in recent British history – reaching its peak in the 70s and 80s, the civil war-like conflict was the result of the partition of Ireland upon Irish independence in 1922. Northern Ireland, the 6 counties of Ireland retained by the United Kingdom, was enveloped in sectarian violence between Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups and resulted in the British Military being sent to the province.
’71 is a fictitious account of a British soldier who is sent to Belfast in 1971 and becomes separated from his unit. Despite being written by a Scot, and funded by Creative Scotland and Screen Yorkshire, much of the dark humour has come straight from Northern Ireland and it is clear a lot of work has been put into making the film authentic.
The film opens with the lead protagonist, Gary Hook, leaving his younger brother behind in a children’s home as he is being sent to Belfast. Upon reaching Belfast, Hook is told about the safe (Protestant) and hostile (Catholic) areas of Belfast. Although shocking to some members of the audience, this sequence very accurately depicts the beliefs of the British Army in the 1970s.
The following morning, Hook’s unit are sent to a ‘fault line’ area of Belfast without riot gear to show they are there to keep the population safe. It is here where the unit face much hostility from the Republican population resulting in one of Hook’s fellow soldiers being shot and Hook being chased by republican paramilitaries. After hiding in an outdoor toilet for hours, Hook becomes lost from the rest of his unit and has to find his way back to the barracks through the deadly streets of 70s Belfast.
After witnessing a paramilitary bomb blowing up a loyalist pub, a conspiracy by some high-up members of the army and the hospitality Hook receives from a Catholic father and daughter, the film’s climax takes places in Divis Tower – an IRA stronghold at the end of the Falls Road.
The majority of the film takes place over one night and is very effective at showing the tension in Northern Ireland in 70s – much of which still exists in certain areas and at certain times of year. The film is well-paced to build the suspense faced by Hook. The violence is a little more subtle but nevertheless depicts enough horror to keep your attention going.
My only criticism would be that there is a subtle one-sidedness of the film. Although it does try to depict the atrocities committed by both sides during the conflict, most of the film focuses on the actions of pro-Republicans. Bar the riot scene where hook becomes lost from his regiment, pro-loyalist violence isn’t strongly depicted and indeed is shown to be more humorous – through the use of a loyalist child – than the violence shown by republicans in the film.
Nevertheless, the film shows the overall violence and tension of the Troubles very convincingly. The use of dark, Northern Irish humour keeps it relevant and helps break the tension when necessary whilst the sequences of Hook running from republican paramilitaries on the Falls Road and in Divis Tower will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Have you seen ’71? What do you think? Does it fairly depict the height of the Troubles in the early 70s? Have your say in the comments below.