Paper – rock – scissors – stick – knife – gun – gun – bomb – hanging – "prest" to death. In the Harrow Road Thai café that served as our cultural bunker this month, the choice of who writes the blog came down to AC’s rock-hand blunting my scissors-fingers, so here goes.
’71 is a film we all admired tremendously; a proverbial white-knuckle ride of a thriller on the surface, but with catherine-wheel sparks of didacticism spinning off its subplots. The exotic AC, not domiciled in Blighty during the ‘70s, asked us if it evoked our youths. The wizened gentlemen of the group all appreciated the attention to period detail, which added a nostalgic veneer to an otherwise intense, jolting, violent, and compelling watch. But as regards our collective memory of The Troubles? War is boring, Dave said wearily, and ashamedly I had to agree.
Part of ‘71’s accomplishment is to set aside the dreary, intractable rhetoric of the wider politics and to put us on the street with the sticks and stones and knives and guns -- with the ‘poor c*nts’, as the weary Good Samaritan doctor says. As a thriller, a survival movie, it’s terrific. Those bigger politics remain controversial, and the film doesn’t try to overreach by exploring this too deeply. I think two things from the wider context do come through though: the abandonment of protocol and lawful procedure where time after time “the situation was confused” (an accurate description of events, and a handy catch-all excuse); and the denial of truths being heard (which much later the truth and reconciliation processes started to address).
The acting is brilliant across the board, and the characters marvelously drawn. Special pantomime boos to the gloriously nasty Captain Sandy Browning, who above all else personifies the colluding, cold-hearted pragmatist at war; and special it-was-bound-to-happen sobs to the expressionless Sean Bannon, innocent and impressionable and doomed.
Of course I knew of Arthur Miller and The Crucible, but I knew nothing about the play until this month. Reading around it, I was fascinated that it grew out of McCarthyism. We all enjoyed it and found it thought provoking, and interesting from a literary point of view. None of us have seen it performed (Lara where were you in our time of need?) and we were fascinated if / how the biographical notes are incorporated into the performance. Feeling desperately uncultured, I have no idea whether these extensive prose notes are meant to be part of the show, but one suspects the way they are written means they are omitted. This makes the work itself more interesting – that so much context is left unsaid on the stage, and that so much of the play is to be read. I felt it was wonderfully highbrow – an American intellectual railing against his country through an allegorical retelling of early American religious history. Some of the Salem witch-trial source history is absolutely bananas too; I had hitherto not come across the practice of being prest to death, and the judicial / legal circumstances that would lead an accused to declare “more weight!”
And y’see, that’s why Kensal Review is so brilliant. At the start of the month a heavy sigh emanated from my wheezy lungs at the prospect of watching a film about Northern Ireland and reading a book about 17th Century witch trials in Massachusetts. But it was amazing, all of it.