“71” a Stark Look at “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland
By Skip Sheffield
“71” is the dark side of Erin Go Bragh, St. Patrick and happy leaping leprechauns.
“71” is a movie about “The Troubles” in Ireland. It is set in Belfast in 1971 (hence the title) and told from the point of view of a young British soldier (Jack O’Connell).
A boxing match is the opening scene, followed by footage of young soldiers at training camp.
Northern Ireland was a violent, confusing, unstable place in 1971, and it would just get worse in the ensuing years as partisans of the rebellious Irish Republican Army (IRA) battled loyalists to the British crown.
British soldiers were jeered, spat upon and pelted with rocks and other objects by men, women and children. The children are the most unsettling part of this story, conceived by Angus Lamont, written by playwright Gregory Burke and directed by Yann Demange in his feature film debut.
In the chaos of street rioting, Jack is beaten by gang of men who would probably have beaten him to death if not for the intervention of a sympathetic woman. As troops retreated, Jack was stranded behind, bloody and afraid. The story continues into a very long night as Jack struggles to survive against all odds. One most excruciating scene is when Jack is taken in by a sympathetic couple and his wounds were sew up without the benefit of anesthesia.
There is no solid, easy conclusion to “71,” just as there is no simple resolution between Protestants and Catholics and loyalists and the IRA. Iraq or Afghanistan could just as well be substituted for Belfast. Through all history young soldiers are called upon to fight dirty wars in which no one wins. It is not a rational situation, but war is rarely rational. “71” is a thoroughly unpleasant, stinging film. If you are looking to be uplifted, this is not your movie.