Troubles in mind
A ﬁlm about the situation in Northern Ireland is always going to be topical, even when it’s set in the past. Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan tells Alan Morrison about Nothing Personal.
In the mid-90s. a week is no longer ‘a long time’ in politics. it’s an eternity. Delicate situations change in days. hours even. At 3.45pm on Monday 7 October. I put down the telephone after talking to ﬁlm director Thaddeus O’Sullivan about his Northern Irish drama Nothing Personal. We’ve discussed ceaseﬁres and murders and the human tragedy that underlies ‘The Troubles'. After months of being shoved around the release schedule. Nothing Personal has ﬁnally been allocated a date for hitting cinemas in Edinburgh and London; the ‘climate’ is right. the distributors hope. as a shaky truce continues in the provinces. The phone call ﬁnishes, and 45 minutes later two IRA car bombs go off inside the British Army’s headquarters in Lisbum: one dead. 3I injured. including two children.
llothlng Personal: ‘the cause at It all ls this acceptance of vlolence’
In the light ofsuch events. the box ofﬁce impact ofa ﬁlm is of minor importance. And yet. given the often hysterical news coverage of the Northem Ireland situation. perhaps screen drama is the most valid forum for digging out the buried truths about the whole mess. Nothing Personal is due to be followed in the cinemas by Neil Jordan's historical epic Michael Collins and. early next year. Some Mother Is Son, an account of the Bobby Sands hunger strike period. All three ﬁlms use events from the past to throw light on the present. which. O'Sullivan believes. gives his ﬁlm a more universal humanity.
‘What I've felt most strongly about in relation to The Troubles has been the suffering of ordinary people. the deaths of people who are not involved and the corrosive effect of the violence on the community.’ he explains. ‘The story of the ﬁlm is really about the horror of
violence. It's not a political ﬁlm about Northern Ireland. so on one level. it doesn’t really matter what is happening there. Ifthe ﬁlm can’t stand on its own without relating to the current politics in Northem Ireland. then it has failed as a piece of cinema.’
Underpinning the action in Nothing Personal is the idea of a culture of violence being handed down through generations of committed people. O’Sullivan - director of the feature December Bride and the Scottish-set television serial Tell Tale Hearts — presents the changing nature of idealism from Michael Gambon’s old- school commander to James Frain's dependable ‘soldier’ to Ian Hart’s pyscho. a loose cannon who uses the situation as a Iegitimised outlet for murderous desires that. in another place. would have him locked away for life. The difference here is that these men are all Loyalist paramiliteries. not
IRA. and one wonders if previous ﬁlmmakers have shied away from this side of the divide for political reasons at a subconscious level.
'They‘d say they'd never been offered the material. and that‘s probably true.‘ reckons O’Sullivan. ‘But as regards news. current affairs and documentaries. the choice has usually been Republican. The history of Republicanism is strong and well rooted in the community in the North. and it's a more interesting culture probably to a reponer.’
Filming began during the ceaseﬁre in spring I995. and while it was still too dangerous to work on the real streets in the Shankhill Road (the Victorian streets of Dublin's Ringsend district stand in). O’Sullivan was able to give his actors a feel of the place by taking them round some of Belfast's pubs. Now. with the ﬁlm at last getting a UK release. a resurgence in tensions would make even that simple research exercise impossible. O’Sullivan's concerns about the cyclical nature of the conﬂict. captured so poignantly in his ﬁlm. have again been proved to be well founded.
‘I set it in I975 so I could have some chance of having a distance from the events. but also to give a sense of things going round and round.’ he says. ‘The cause of it all isjust this acceptance of violence. the acceptance of people who believe their ideologies should be impressed upon others through violence. That's still going on now as it was in I975. Nothing has changedf Nothing Personal opens at the Film/louse. Edinburgh on Fri 18 Oct.
FROM OCT 25 ODEON (QUAY) Glasgow - GLASGOW FILM THEATRE - CAMEO Edinburgh - UCI
22 The List l8-3l Oct 1996