Maybe it's semantics, but I take issue with the characterization of Bloody Sunday
as "documentary style." Verité
, certainly, but Bloody Sunday
recreates the events of January 30, 1972 with a you-were-there immediacy that can't be achieved in a documentary. The film is completely engrossing and very powerful, but afterwards I had two thoughts. The first was whether Bloody Sunday
would draw the same criticisms about lack of character development and backgrounding that were directed at Blackhawk Down
. And, while most of the reviews I've read have been positive, I have read a few negative ones that make such criticisms. As with Blackhawk Down
, I think such arguments miss the point of the movie. The dramatic force of both films is drawn from the events themselves, much like real life. (Most people who watched the towers fall on September 11 didn't know anyone there, but it was still horrifying.) The victims in Bloody Sunday
aren't completely anonymous. The film provides two people for us to follow throughout the march, shootings and aftermath. And, while the movie doesn't spend a lot of time on character development, we are given some information about them.
Gerry Donaghy (the real Gerry is pictured right) is a 17-year-old who lives with his sister and has a Protestant girlfriend. When the movie opens, they're making out while babysitting Gerry's nephew. When Gerry walks her home, he stops as they reach the Protestant section of town. They agree to meet there the next evening after the march. The second person that the film focuses on is Ivan Cooper, a Protestant MP who helped to organize the march. While a non-violent civil rights activist, he's also portrayed very clearly as a politician who's never too busy to shake a constituent's hand, but is too busy for his girlfriend, who's pissed at him. It is through Ivan that we are provided some background information -- at least from the marchers' perspective. The soldiers are also given voice. Another film, Sunday
, made for the 30th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" and shown on British TV around the same time as Bloody Sunday
, apparently provided more historical context. This review from the World Socialist Web Site
compares the two films -- not exactly an objective source, but nonetheless an interesting take on both movies.
The second question I had was how accurate is the film? I also wondered whether it would resurrect the debate about how much fidelity films owe to history that we've seen with other recent films such as Blackhawk Down
and A Beautiful Mind
. My position in the debate is "it depends." The more a film relies on its "based on a true story" status for its dramatic power, the more such power is diminished by substantive inaccuracies. With A Beautiful Mind
, I couldn't care less about its accuracies (although John Nash's real story sounded more complex and interesting that ABM
to me). But, would I be watching a film about the fictional shooting of fictional marchers by fictional soldiers? Probably not. The only reason I'm watching the movie is because I'm interested in the real event. Still, it's incumbent upon me to recognize the limitations of a two-hour (less) movie. For example, I don't know whether the exchange between Gerry and his girlfriend when he drops her off, touching as it is in the context of the film, actually took place. If this was dramatic license, it seems of little consequence to me. Bloody Sunday
also eavesdrops on the conversations of soldiers prior to the march, portraying them as on edge and trigger happy. It's probably impossible to know whether such conversations took place (although the WSWS review indicates that the makers of both Sunday
and Bloody Sunday
interviewed soldiers). Still, given the events of "Bloody Sunday" and the history of the Northern Ireland conflicts, such conversations, even if the product of pure imagination, seemed plausible to me. On the other hand, the film shows a soldier shooting a wounded marcher at point blank range, basically an execution. I would be disturbed if there was no support for such act. So, I did some limited research after watching the film. The way in which the shootings are portrayed seems consistent with the eyewitness accounts on the Bloody Sunday Trust website
. Eyewitness accounts, especially in a situation of panic and confusion, may not be particularly reliable and it may be impossible to know with certainty what happened on January 30, 1972.
That being the case, there's nothing wrong with a film adopting a specific point of view. Assuming that films such as Bloody Sunday
owe some fidelity to historical accuracy (and I think they do), that should not require objective, journalistic balance (an idea which itself is a myth). Still, Bloody Sunday
makes some (slight) attempt at balance. It depicts the presence of the IRA on the day of the march (a fact the Bloody Sunday Trust website disputes) and allows for the possibility that a few marchers (but not the ones who were shot) might have been armed. Bloody Sunday
also leaves a fair amount of questions unanswered, suggesting a reluctance to engage in too much rank speculation.