‘ 71 is the story of a young British soldier accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Disoriented and unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape. In many ways ’71 that simple synopsis doesn’t give the film enough credit.
’71 is one of the most tension filled films I have watched in a long time. At the sold out screening I attended there was a man literally on the edge of his seat, others watched through fingers as the final act left the audience on an absolute knife-edge. I really don’t want to give too much away about the film because to go into detail may tip into unintentionally into spoiler territory.
The director, Yann Demange, does a wonderful job of heightening the tension from the moment Private Hook (Jack O’Connell) steps onto the Belfast streets for the first time until the film’s climax. O’Connell also gives a great performance as the fresh-faced soldier sent to Belfast with no knowledge of the world he is entering and no understanding of the conflict he is thrown into. Asked by a child on the streets if he is Catholic or Protestant Hook replies ‘I dunno’ in an almost confused manner highlighting his lack of understanding of this vital question in seventies Belfast.
The other welcoming aspect of this film is that unlike other ‘Troubles’ films it doesn’t appear to pick a side in the conflict. All sides of the equation show their good and bad characteristics, even those there to keep peace are seen to dip into creating further darkness. By not engaging in the politics too deeply it would be completely feasible to lift this story and place it in modern-day Afghanistan or other conflict areas and still have the same tension packed results.
This is not a standard ‘Troubles in Northern Ireland’ film. This is a story of survival in conflict, this is a story of trust and this is a story that highlights all that is good and equally all that is bad within our own natures.