When Paris-born London-based director Yann Demange was awarded a Special Mention by the jury at the Berlin Film Festival, there was a sudden problem – who had bragging rights over this fantastic new talent, France or Britain?
After directing BAFTA award-winning TV series Top Boy, Demange now presents his first feature film, ’71, an immersive take on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) stars as young squaddie Gary Hook, who’s dropped into Belfast city centre at the height of the violence. A routine patrol of the streets turns into a riot, and Gary is separated from the rest of the troops, who retreat to safety. Gary disguises himself as best he can, and is helped into hiding by a boy he befriends.
It’s an utterly tense and relentless struggle for Gary, whose soldier-defining buzz cut marks him out as a walking target from a mile away, not to mention his strong English accent that he’s hard-pressed to cover up.
O’Connell is captivating, and takes his now near type-cast hardman persona to the next level, with an understated vulnerability and youthful innocence as he runs around the city centre fighting for his life. Demange manages to make The Troubles an immersive viewing experience by staying close to our persecuted lead and throwing him into constant life or death situations for the entire film.
For anyone unfamiliar to the history, it’s a brutal introduction, but most importantly, it’s a fair one. Demange doesn’t pick a side, so much as to show the consequences and repercussions of the violence, which were, undeniably devastating.
If you can separate yourself from the fact that it’s depicting real events, ’71 is a thriller that will really get your pulse racing. Demange is 100% a director to keep a look out for in the future (and he’s British).
’71 will be released in UK cinemas on October 10. It’s also showing as part of the London Film Festival on October 9.