Film & TV

Review – ’71

First time director Yann Demange, (who does not yet even have a Wikipedia page), has achieved something with this film. This something is sustaining cinematic substance within simplicity.

Set in Belfast in 1971, during the height of the violence during The Troubles (1968-98), a British soldier becomes separated from his troop. The troop were initially sent to West Belfast to conduct a house to house search operation. The narrative then focuses on two groups of people, with polar opinions but the very same aim. Gary’s (the abandoned soldier) British paramilitary team constitutes the first, the second made up of half a dozen Irish nationalists. Both parties go on the hunt for the lost soldier.


The protagonist, played by Jack O’Connell (who is due to star in the Angelina Jolie directed war film Unbroken), is a relatively uncomplicated, modest character. Though not about to become a scholar, what arises through his action and dialogue is that he is deeply honest.

O’Connell proves himself as a worthy actor through his mastery of conveying the internal and external existences of his character. He says little but there is a consistent thread of inner turmoil suggested in his solo scenes.

These scenes are perhaps the most powerful moments in the film. For instance, after a chase in which Gary is pursued by a furious nationalist, he hides in a shed and sobs. As a viewer you are not only confronted with raw human emotion, but believe you are actually in the same character’s situation. The latter aspect is more fully realised due to the confident control of pace during the chase, coupled with the use of visceral camera motion.


One mark of a good film lies in its unpredictability. ’71 didn’t promise to hold any unexpected twists and turns, meaning that for some, the storyline reached a plateau just under half way through. However, as a result of this levelling, the audience is encouraged to focus on detail, and attention to detail propels believability.

The film is injected with subtlety – the thumbs up signal shared between Gary and his young son, which is shortly afterwards counterpointed by two nationalists as an indication to shoot someone; the unmoving yet all-telling expression on a teenager’s face as he witnesses a bloody clash between British troops and Irish nationalists; and perhaps the most significant detail of all: Gary, physically battered and with a raw, bleeding wound showing through his side, steals into someone’s house to escape his pursuers and encounters a small child playing with her doll. He puts a finger to his lip. The child stares. A silent dialogue from one generation to the next.

Another quality the film embodies, one which also adds depth, is the blending together of opposites. Despite knowing that Gary is a British soldier, and the subsequent danger this entails, he is generously taken in by a father and daughter in Belfast. A teenager, although a member of the British-hating gang, shoots one of his own kind. It is revealed that there is a mole in the British paramilitary troop working for the nationalists.


One of the most intriguing examples of this interplay between harmony and discord is through sound. Near the beginning of the film residents of Falls Road (where the British troops have been sent), repeatedly bang their dustbin lids on the ground, trying to ward off the soldiers. The pace of the drumming steadily increases and becomes infused into the soundtrack, in which the sound effect is used multiple times throughout the rest of the film – both in scenes with the British and the Irish.

These features are relatively simple: the character, the plot, the details, the sound. Yet they all hint at darker, more complex undercurrents. This is a fitting way to represent The Troubles in Northern Ireland, as the situation had become so messy by the early 70s that it would be exceedingly difficult to translate this into film – at least without causing the focus and plot to become confused.

Implication, rather than bold (and often brash) action, paves way for ambiguity. And this is the reason the film has an unexpectedly haunting effect, long after it has finished.

Tessa Glinoer


Click here for more of the latest Film Reviews

What did you think of ’71Let us know via Facebook and Twitter, or leave a comment.

Film & TVFilm Reviews

Leave a Reply