Omagh (2004) Irish TV Movie on the Omagh Bomb

I have seen a few movies on the Troubles. Some were good, a few were outstanding. Omagh, I’m afraid, isn’t one of them. I’m not saying it isn’t sort of interesting as it explores, more than anything else, the reactions of the people affected by the “Omagh bomb”, namely the families of the victims, the support groups, the police and the politicians. But interesting doesn’t necessarily equal well done. I don’t mind TV productions but I’m not keen on shaky handheld camera, weirdly cut images and pseudo-documentary style. Blood Sunday (here is my review) has a very similar approach but was much better, I thought. Still, I didn’t mind watching it as I have always been interested in Irish history.

Omagh is a little town in Northern Ireland. On Saturday  15 August 1998, a car bomb went off in the town center, killing 29 people and injuring another 220. The beginning of the movie, focusing on one young man, Aiden Gallagher, and his family is very powerful. We know what is going to happen and to see them before the tragedy and knowing one of them is doomed, is quite uncanny. Also the anxious moments after the family hears that there was a bomb and their son and bother doesn’t return are very well done.

The responsible people for the Omagh bomb were the so-called Real IRA, a splinter group of the Provisional IRA whose members were opposed to the peace treaty. The Troubles are such a complicated chapter in Irish history and as much as the movie tries to capture this, for the outsider it stays quite confusing.

That the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Sinn Féin leaders condemned the attack didn’t help the families much. What follows Aiden’s burial, is a close examination of the aftermath of the bombing. Aiden’s father tries to get the help from anyone he can. Politicians and police alike. He joins a support group and together with their members they try to find out who is responsible for the bombing. They look for the individual names. After a while Michael is contacted by a man who was an informant and spying on the Real IRA. He provides him with a list of names. He pretends having given information on the bombing to an intelligence service way before it happened.

Michael tries to pursue this and investigates on his own, confronting the police but to no avail. After a few months he is so down that he has to let go and try to overcome the grief for his son.

Some months later the support group is summoned by the police. An ombudsman tells them that not only did they find proof that the informant told the people in charge about the bomb threat but that the intelligence service had also tried to cover it up. In doing so, evidence that could have led to arrests was lost.

“Bad management and lack of judgment of a senior intelligence officer” was the final verdict of the ombudsman. Sadly there were no consequences.

It makes me feel a bit bad to say that I didn’t like this film. It seems as if I was saying the incident wasn’t horrible. I’d like to emphasize, that this isn’t the case at all. What happened in Omagh is horrible but the way it has been filmed was just not convincing.

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Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto (2005) A Really Different Look at The Troubles

Taking into consideration that the definition of war is  “armed conflict between hostile parties, nations or countries” it is fair to include Breakfast on Pluto or any other movie dealing either with The Troubles, the IRA, Terrorism and similar things in a blog dedicated to war movies.

A while back I reviewed Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, and an other outstanding movie on the Irish Civil war and war of Independence, The Wind that Shakes the Barley (also starring the stunning Cillian Murphy), and I did also review Bloody Sunday. Each of these movies tells about another era in this long-lasting conflict between Ireland and the UK.

Breakfast on Pluto is not only a highly original variation on the theme of The Troubles, Northern Ireland and the IRA but also one actors tour de force.

Patrick Kitten Braiden (Cillian Murphy) is not exactly like other boys. Left as a baby by his single mother on the doorsteps of a church, he is given to a foster family who can’t handle him. Already the very young Patrick is not interested in boy’s things or clothes. He likes to dress like a girl, uses make-up and lives in a fantasy world where he is either a famous film star or meets his mother who lives a glamorous life in London.

Small-minded Irish small town life of the 70s isn’t an ideal place for a young man with gender issues. Despite being an outsider, his charming likable nature provides him with friends, still it is obvious he doesn’t want to stay in Ireland. He wants to go to London and find his mother.

Some of the group of friends he hangs out with are politically active and join the IRA. Kitten isn’t exactly interested in politics, at least not conscioulsy, but he wants change. He wants to express himself freely and be accepted the way he is.

After a huge fight with his foster family he leaves the small town and travels around. He is picked up by some Irish Glitter Rock Band and tours with them in their bus through Northern Ireland. But wherever he goes, people seem to be involved with the IRA  and through his naivety he gets himself into a lot of trouble and finally departs to London.

He lives under the illusion that once in London he will magically bump into his mother.

Regarding the IRA, things haven’t changed in London, Kitten still seems to be always somehow at the heart of things. The big difference however is that this time, he doesn’t see the angry hostile presence of British soldiers but the mayhem created by a terrorist attack. Being the only Irish present in the club that is blown up, he is arrested.

The adventures of cross-dressing Kitten, his tribulations and struggles to find his mother are told in a charming, funny and quirky way. Breakfast on Pluto manages to tell the story of The Troubles seen from a completely different angle. Cillian Murphy as the unworldly, gentle Kitten is really astonishing. To a certain extent Kitten reminded me of Birdy. Like Birdy the movie Breakfast on Pluto is also a really touching tale of friendship and a call for tolerance.

Maybe not your average war movie, but well worth watching. I really enjoyed it. The music is also very well chosen.

I owe thanks to Novroz from Polychrome Interest who introduced me to this movie. If you are interested in Cillian Murphy’s other movies, go visit her website. She is a true “Cillianiac”.

Bloody Sunday (2002) or The Day Innocence Died

Maybe it is debatable whether this is a real war movie in the strict sense of the term (but then, what is that anyway?) but I believe whenever there is armed conflict executed by an army or large group of people, even though not on a global scale we have to speak of war.

On January 30 1972 the British army opened fire on a peaceful Civil Rights March in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. On this day 27 people were shot and 13 of them lost their lives. A further victim died a few months later. This day was from then on called  Bloody Sunday. It was a huge blow to the Civil Rights Movement and ended in countless young men entering the IRA. What followed is a history of bloodshed and terrorism that would not end until the 90´s.

On June 15 2010, after an investigation of 12 years had been conducted and found that the British army had opened fire without  a reason, the British Prime Minister Cameron apologized for this crime.

The so-called Saville Report has cost 230 million Euro. It proved without any doubt  that  the soldiers were at no time shot at. They opened fire on people who tried to flee, take refuge or wanted to help others. Two thirds of the victims were only 17 years old.

When this movie was shot, although largely known, there was no actual evidence as to the truth of these facts. We know them now and thus the movie unfurls vividly before the spectators eyes the whole extent of this tragedy.

Bloody Sunday is not easy to watch and the first two thirds were so annoying that I was tempted to stop it. This is solely due to the technique. It is filmed documentary style with a shaky hand-held camera. We see three complementary points of view. The Civil Rights Movement´s, the Police Headquarter´s and The Army Company´s stationed in the street. The camera fades to black for every scene. During the bits at the Police Headquarters there is a constant ringing of telephones that drove me almost mad. Also at the Civil Rights Movement´s Head Quarters, just before they assemble on the street, phones keep on ringing. The movie basically shows the whole day from early morning until its bloody end. We see the people prepare for the march, the police debating at what point they should stop the march and the soldiers on the street taking position.

It is worthwhile to sit through these annoyances though. The last third, when the march turns into a tragedy, is extremely powerful and the documentary style filming adds to the realism to an almost unbearable extent. What we watch is such a tragedy that we can barely believe it. To shoot at people who shout for help or try to help others looks like an execution.

Saying all this I think the movie shows nevertheless, no matter how misguided the army was or how brutal their reaction, that  they were also under a lot of stress. Some of their own had been killed a few days before, they were constantly attacked, bottles thrown at them.

As so very often it is shown that those on the street (very much like those on the battle field) depend on their command in the Head Quarters who failed them completely. They misjudged everything, thought that sheer force would end it all and boy were they wrong. And, as always, they never pay a price in lives.

At the end of the movie there is a scene when every single victim is named. Every individual anonymous victim seems to become a face.

When watching the end I was surprised at how much this movie got to me.