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.

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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.


22 The List l8-3l Oct 1996