Back in Time with '71

A piece by Anthony McIntyre prompted by the film '71. It that appeared in The Observer under the title 'How a generation recalls the reality of Belfast’s streets in 1971' on 19 October 2014.

71 (2014) - film still
Jack O’Connell, centre, stars as a young British squaddie lost in the mayhem of 1970s Belfast at the height of the Troubles in Yann Demange’s thriller ’71. Photograph: Capital Pictures
The impact of ’71 was immediate. To use the well-worn phrase, a journey back in time. The screen immediately saturated my mind with powerful ambience and stunning effect, both visual and audible.

1971 was a time when fear and excitement stalked Belfast streets in equal measure. The death of a soldier or a member of the RUC was hailed with a joyous punch of the air; the deaths of IRA volunteers with aggrieved solemnity. British state violence was rampant. Civilians died driving from work or walking home. Their killers – men in green uniforms who barked harsh commands with English accents. In west Belfast’s Ballymurphy, a civilian population was massacred by British paratroopers in a forerunner of the war crime that would become universally known as Bloody Sunday.

Armoured cars raced through streets, smashing down doors and garden fences.

The aggressive English voices, a foreign body assailing the peace and in need of eradication. Stories of torture were coming out from the internment centres, feeding into the community rage. The stench of communal repression was concealed, but endured beneath the thick clouds of CS gas which literally choked many nationalist areas. A population gasping for air lashed out through the IRA. Bad was something that was done to us; what was done to others with our approval was good, the harm it wrought a secondary matter.

We were numbered among Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, as such immune from culpability, wholly indifferent to the observation of Napoleon that among the oppressed are many who like to oppress.

1971 was a defining moment in the fortunes of the north. Long remembered for the introduction of internment as a means to quell political violence, the British government through its own violence was putting in place another necessary condition for the morphing of the IRA from a small secret society to a major insurrectionary force that would ultimately collapse the unionist government of the north.

1971 saw me stride the Falls Road in the funeral cortege of Paddy McAdorey, an IRA volunteer shot dead by a British sniper on internment morning. It was my first IRA funeral. There would be many more. Having later joined the IRA, on whose behalf I would spend almost 20 years in prison, I feel the need to explain to my children how I came of age. The screen of ’71 is a window on the ferocious intensity that transformed British and Irish kids into killers.


  1. Brilliant review!

    The film was nail biting stuff alright! I was so caught up in the plot that it took a while to realise, I was sitting there rooting for Gary Hook to get back safely to his base.

    It provided a snapshot of what life was like when you stepped into the shadows and away from the glam and the glory.

    The feeling of fear, betrayal and alienation that became an almost tangible concept was brilliantly portrayed.

    The downside for me, was the fact, that such situations don't happen in a void, therefore a small snap of history may have detracted from the feeling that the protagonists at war, may have been much more than rats in a sack.

  2. Thanks Nuala although it was less of a review than I would have liked. It was more about memories that were promoted by the film. But if you are up for a review of the film itself it would be great to have

  3. Great stuff. Haven't seen the show, to be honest I thought it would be pure cheese. I might now if it's still in and supposed to be going tomorrow night

  4. Sean, these shows are always a matter of taste, timing and mood. I thought it was a good one despite some reservations about the themes which were ideological. But worth the watching. You could always review it for us. I am hoping Nuala does that a well.

  5. If anyone wants to watch '71 and haven't had the chance to watch it for what ever reason. First you'll need a decent bit torrent.

    I use vuze.. When installing vuze 'click' custom download and uncheck the add odd's (otherwise it will install a new browser and other daft suff) then goto here and hit 'download' (go to the first link and click on the 'down ward' arrow)...

    When vuze installs it will place a 'download' folder in your documents.. once it's (the movie) has downloaded) you'll find it in 'Documents--->Vuze downloads-->'71. There will be three/four files, the movie is the large avi file..

    And it wont give your lappy/PC VD or any other kind of virus...

  6. Best part in the film for me is when soldier was hiding in the flat and the ex service man explained the following to him.

    Life in the British Army "Posh cunts, telling thick cunts to kill poor cunts". I thought that was superb.