It'll be a shame when this place is demolished.
Even though it's a standard multiplex, some of my most memorable cinematic moments come from this place. From seeing Batman Forever nearly 25 years ago, to sneaking off school to see The Insider and even a recent experience with Atomic Blonde, this place is an institution for me.
After taking my usual seat (wall seat in the row usually reserved for ushers in the back row, left hand side), the cinema fills up (apparently, only 20 tickets remained unsold) and the crowd are what you'd expect: people of a certain age who lived through the conflict, republicans (Richard O'Rawe and Tommy Gorman are present), GAA top wearing culchies (I heard the accents), young film connoisseurs and visitors to this country.
On a personal level, it's nice to see I'm not the youngest person in here (at the screening for No Stone Unturned a while ago, it felt like the audience had been let out from the old folk's home) and it's also cool to see that our recent history is of interest to some 18-25 year olds.
The selling point of I, Dolours is the use of an interview of Dolours Price, conducted by Ed Moloney, where "she would record her story on tape and video and it would not see daylight until she died. That way the truth could eventually be told without causing harm to herself" (owing to underhand tactics from journalists in The Irish News and Sunday Life).
Bizarrely, he seems to have already used part of the interview for his 2010 RTE programme Voices From the Grave.
As you can see, she's wearing the same clothing and the background is the same as well. So why bill this as an "exclusive" (for want of a better word) when part of it had been broadcast in 2010 (the year the interview was conducted)?
Anyway, while the idea of her voice being the sole one in this film sounds intriguing, it makes for some serious narrative problems.
Effectively, the film tries to straddle two positions (fully examining her life and activities in the IRA while only hinting at the issues that would contribute to her death) and falls flat on both points. That's, firstly, because the physical and mental health issues are dealt with in a clichéd and unnecessarily repeated manner (via re-enactments), as if to emphasise the point that these are Very Serious Issues. Although Dolours does discuss the effect that anorexia had on her, it's left to the re-enactments to depict the health struggles, the repetition of seeing someone throwing up suggests an amount of padding was needed to bulk up the running time and that the filmmakers weren't prepared to fully explore this aspect of her life.
Secondly, the IRA life is referred to in such a way that it assumes the viewer knows who people like Billy McMillen and Pat McClure are. This lack of context can be off-putting, even for someone familiar with the recent history of this country. As an example, Dolours notes that the team were set up by an informer in Ireland. If you then go to the official website for the movie, Moloney names the suspected informer as George Poyntz (who was eventually unmasked over a decade later). Why not include such information in the film? It all seems a tad "arse about face."
Re-enactments in such films/programmes are commonplace nowadays, even though they divide opinion among historians/filmgoers. However, with the much touted interview with Dolours being used in the film for a grand total of 11 minutes, it's not a surprise that the rest of the film heavily relies on these re-enactments.
American writer David Rieff has often been critical of commemorations and re-enactments of complex historical incidents, arguing that by doing so, the power of the event is reduced to mere kitsch. And it's fair to say I, Dolours is guilty of this.
Firstly, Bridie Dolan (an aunt who had a seismic impact on Dolours' life) is introduced to the audience when an idyllic family gathering with children and very clean cut looking adults is interrupted with a thumping (presumably on the ceiling), on which the father instructs a young Dolours to bring Bridie her tea. The whole scene, including an aerial shot of Dolours shaking as she brings the tray up a flight of stairs, puts the viewer in mind of Bertha Mason, the mad woman who lived in the attic in Jane Eyre.
And while I'm sure it was intended by the filmmakers to reinforce the horror of what can happen to people who dedicate their lives to such causes, the scene detailing the aftermath of the explosion that disabled Bridie Dolan is shot in such a dimly lit (almost grindhouse) way that it appears to be an outtake from one of the various Saw movies, where the aftermath of torture is very much the focus for the audience. While the camera doesn't linger on her for too long, it still feels unnecessary.
Finally, and although I'm perfectly aware they are a necessity for legal reasons, the disclaimers before the end credits (e.g. "Gerry Adams has always maintained that he has never been a member of the IRA" etc etc) unintentionally made Dolours look like a fantasist.
While I understand, from both a feminist and a historian's point of view, that someone like Dolours Price telling her story is a necessity for better understanding our recent history, realistically, this didn't need to be a film. The amount of padding through re-enactments and archive footage does not hide the fact that it's both too timid to delve into the health issues the conflict left Dolours with, and its broad assumptions about the viewers' knowledge of the conflict mean that areas are never explored enough to satisfaction.
As the credits rolled, there seemed (from where I was sitting) to be a muted response. There was no applause, nor did I hear anyone leaving saying anything about the film. In my experience, when you've seen a film that's an emotional rollercoaster, you're very quick to share your response to someone else in the audience. Here, nothing. It felt like a formality for some.
For the Q&A session, director Maurice Sweeney and Ed Moloney were quizzed by William Crawley of BBC's 'Talkback' programme. Covering the origins of the film, through to whether it "glorifies" Dolours Price and the intricacies of the Jean McConville story, it's all very pleasant and polite, although it's interesting that Crawley talked about the lack of "balance" needed for a film (whereas it would be needed for TV and radio), which Sweeney confesses was a bonus for the film as they were able to tell Dolours' story without interruptions.
When it was time for the audience to ask, we got an incredibly stupid first question ("why wasn't this shown at Feile an Phobail instead") and an interesting second question ("is this an anti-war film") which led to the curious claim from Moloney that Dolours Price had considered her life a wasted one.
Having read her writing for The Blanket, I think this is a gross distortion of the truth. Jaz Coleman once wrote that "Understanding the meaning of struggle/Giving your whole life to a single passion/Which others may or may not/Consider obsolete" may very well mean that you don't get what you are struggling for, but that doesn't mean you give up on your beliefs, the very struggle that built you. It's a line, I suspect, Moloney is using to tame criticisms of the film.
Things took a turn when Tommy Gorman took the mic and proceeded to lambast Moloney and Sweeney for (in his view) exploiting someone who wasn't well at the time for interviews, and that while others have paid a price (Dolours, the McConvilles, the Boston College interviewees) Moloney was the only one who didn't lose. He then lambasted the Boston College situation, saying that interviewees have been left in the lurch.
"Ed, in the midst of all this mayhem the only person who came out winning is yourself.
And I think you let everybody down with your, the care, the lack of care… that you gave Dolours.
Dolours from when she got out of jail, she was already really, badly mixed up in jail, when she came out, her whole thing deteriorated. And I think it wasn’t fair of you to interview her without a solicitor, without her family. I think with the family there, she’d have been more circumspect about the whole situation.
And just one thing….Myself and all those other eejits who decided to get involved in this project in America, we’re all losers too,
[Moderator: You’re talking about the Boston Tapes?]
… the Boston Tapes … we went through that.
There's people still on the run because of that, and as I say everybody’s losers, the McConvilles, and the best loser was Dolours."
- Tommy Gorman, former Boston College Belfast Project interviewee, speaking during the Q & A session of the Belfast premiere of I, Dolours
Sweeney seemed to be particularly stung by the suggestion that Dolours had been manipulated because she was unwell and proceeded to ask, theoretically, if that meant that we shouldn't interview people with mental health issues. Moloney did mock one point by Gorman, which was that maybe a member of the family or a lawyer should have been with her, asking whether he should have said that with everyone he's ever interviewed.
Interestingly, when attempting to facilitate discussion over Boston College, Crawley appeared to know very little about it, even bringing up the FBI at one point!
Before I left, an American in the audience (majoring in anthropology) asked a genuinely interesting question about whether films like I, Dolours could be the norm in the future when it comes to dealing with the legacy of the recent conflict (due to the lack of a truth and reconciliation committee). Sweeney admitted that none of that had gone through his mind when making the film (as he only wanted to tell a story), while Moloney seemed to be on the fence about the issue.
As I left, with 'Forever' by HAIM playing over the PA system as I went down the stairs, I could only think of how the evening encapsulated the situation this country finds itself in: fascinated by our past, but refusing to confront it head on.
➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212