“Right now we must act from our vision, not our fear, and to believe in the possibility of its realization. Every force around us is pushing us to close down, insulate, retreat. Instead, we need to advance, but in a different way. We’re called to take a leap into the unknown,”
The same words could have been spoken by civil rights leader Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) in 1972 as he prepares for a peaceful march in protest against the internment without trial of Irish Catholics by Protestant authorities. The citizens of Derry are ready to stand up for a just cause and make their will known.
Meanwhile, the commander of the British ground forces in Northern Ireland, Major General Robert Ford (Tim Pigott-Smith) and Brigadier Patrick MacLellan (Nicholas Farrell) are making plans to “teach these people a lesson” by maintaining law and order. They plan to round up the hooligans who have been involved in other protests and to win the propaganda war.
Written and directed by Paul Greengrass, this tension-filled drama unfolds with all the power and punch of a documentary. At the outset, we sense the difficult challenge facing Cooper, an avid believer in the nonviolent philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He tries to make sure that the angry youth in the community don’t send the march careening into a violent confrontation with the British soldiers.
He meets with members of the IRA (‘provos’) and begs them not to spoil the demonstration. But Cooper’s worst fears are realized when poor Irish youth start throwing rocks at the troops, and the British respond with live ammunition, cutting down 27 people and leaving 13 dead.
Co-winner of the 2002 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear, Bloody Sunday makes it clear that from the start the British were going to use all possible force to maintain order. The actual scenes of the shootings are difficult to watch, and all of our empathy goes to the unarmed marchers. In a heart-rending speech after the massacre, Cooper compares the tragedy to the slaughters at Sharpesville and Amritzar.
He laments the day as one marking the destruction of the civil rights movement in Ireland and the biggest victory yet for the IRA. Endnotes reveal that no British military personnel were convicted of wrong-doing and that two of the major players were eventually honored by the Queen of England.
Outcome of all this
British Army deployment
How many British soldiers were killed by the IRA?The early 1970s were the most intense period of the Provisional IRA campaign. About half the total of 650 British soldiers to die in the conflict were killed in the years 1971–73. In 1972 alone, the IRA killed 100 British soldiers and wounded 500 more
According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner; 722 of whom were killed in paramilitary attacks, and 719 of whom died as a result of assault, accidents, suicide or natural causes during deployment.Locations: Northern IrelandPart of: The Troubles
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