US Release Date: 2/27/15
Director Yann Demange never really anticipated making a movie about the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, but after reading the script, which forms the story of his directorial debut feature film ’71, he became hooked.
“The idea of young men sent to fight dirty wars also struck me as pertinent,” says Demange. “Often, they have more in common with the kids they’re pitted against than the men they’re taking orders from. It could be Iraq or Afghanistan.”
At the center of the story, scripted by Gregory Burke, is Gary Hook a new British soldier who is sent to Belfast, Northern Ireland – the centrepoint of a bloody war between the Protestants, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Catholics, who believe Ireland should be one hundred per cent independent.
Accidentally abandoned by his unit, Hook, who also happens to lose his gun, find himself alone in a Catholic neighborhood. As a result, he becomes the moving target, during the course of one night, IRA sympathizers.
“In ’71’s protagonist, Gary,” says Demange, “I saw the opportunity to explore the vulnerable masculinity of an anchorless boy, with no family, looking for a tribe to belong to and ultimately finding it in the army, only to be betrayed.”
During the movie’s research phase, Demange visted Northern Ireland and met Protestants, Catholics and family members of those who had been killed during the conflict.
“It quickly became apparent to me this was about shades of grey. I’m not a polemicist, we demonized and humanized in equal measure. But I was struck and surprised at just how young many of the key players were in that era. They were 21 year-olds and younger, very similar ages to the lads in the British army just boys.”
Meanwhile, Jack O’ Connell, who recently starred in Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial offering, topped the shortlist of actors to play Hook.
“Jack has an unusual quality that you don’t see in many young actors of his generation” says Demange. “He’s got an old-school quality, a raw vivid masculinity that he’s quite at ease with.”
In 1971, bombings, IRA executions, British army checkpoints, smoke, burnt out cars and roadblocks dominated Belfast’s troubled landscape. However, that world is long gone from the Belfast of today, so the crew recreated ‘70s Northern Ireland in English cities Blackburn, Liverpool and Sheffield.
Blackburn proved especially pivotal since it was to be the shooting location of the riot which triggers Hook’s predicament.
“It was extremely intense,” says Demange. “We filmed over five days, rehearsed the whole sequence, and then ran it in real time, over and over again. Making sure the energy levels stayed up. The supporting actors were unbelievable and they really helped to make that scene come alive.”
Studio: Roadside Attractions
Director: Yann Demange
Stars: Jack O’ Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris and Barry Keoghan
Screenwriters: Gregory Burke
Producer: Robin Gutch and Angus Lamont
Executive Producers: Sam Lavender, Tessa Ross, Dan Macrae, Danny Perkins, Hugo Heppell, Mark Herbert, Lizzie Francke and Leslie Finlay
Source: Roadside Attractions’ Press Notes
Image Info: Photo credit: Dean Rogers