Directed by Yann Demange
Starring Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer
In UK Cinemas October 10th, 2014

by Amanda Farley

’71 is Yann Demange’s debut feature set in west Belfast in the early years of the conflict.

Private Gary Hook, an ordinary Derby lad, is sent to Belfast. Arriving in a place that is “not abroad’ but completely alien, on his first day he is deployed on the Falls Road to assist with house-to-house searches. Quickly caught up in a violent riot, Hook is separated from the rest of his regiment. Lost behind enemy lines and unsure of who he can trust, he desperately struggles to make his way back to the safety of his barracks. Caught is a dangerous power game, Hook becomes a pawn in a much bigger and darker game of war and politics.

Gregory Burke’s script combines Irish history with a compelling chase story. The traditional war saga so often seen on screen is refreshed by the familiarity of the setting. There is nothing odd or alien about the back streets of Belfast, which is what makes the violent eruptions all the more shocking to a modern audience so used of the foreignness of war images from Afghanistan or Iraq. Burke also raises the idea of war not as a means of right or wrong, good or evil but as a result of tribe mentality and the desire to belong to a family of sorts. Every person in this story is desperate to retain some kind of control and willing to make sacrifices to protect the tribe they associate with.

’71 is a tense thriller that grabs you from the start and O’Connell’s performance as Private Hook is exemplary. He is a rising star and his rawness brings an authentic element to the role that elevates an ordinary boy from Derby into a hero. He is supported however by an excellent cast. Sam Reid is wonderful as the naive commanding officer at odds with Sean Harris’s cynical plain-clothes intelligence operative Captain Browning. While Barry Keoghan and Killian Scott also offer noteworthy performances.

Demange has created an excellent film. He balances the pace and action of the drama with character stories and the result is an engaging journey into a world that doesn’t pass judgement on either side of the troubles. Aided by David Holmes’s terrific score ’71 is a film that really works quite well.

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