Film Review: ’71 is gripping and shocking


’71 marks the directorial debut from Yann Demange, who won Best Director at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards. Bobby Townsend finds out if the film is worth the praise it is receiving:

Starring Jack O’Connell (who was sensational in the brutal Starred Up), ’71 is one of the most intense movies you will see for a long time. Despite being set in an incredibly complicated Northern Ireland, the story is a simple enough. Private Gary Hook (O’Connell) is a young, raw recruit sent to Belfast during a particularly bad period of the troubles. He is accidentally abandoned by his unit when a riot on the streets descends further into carnage and, not knowing who to trust or how to get back to his barracks, must survive the night alone and find his way to safety.

There is a moment, shortly after the riot happens, that is so shocking it sucks all the air out of your lungs. From this occurrence onwards, the bubbling level of tension escalates into something almost stomach-churningly unbearable. It remains like this for the rest of the film. Furthermore, there are a couple of other genuine moments of shock that will knock you for six, as Private Hook treads this alien landscape, hoping for friends but fearing foes.

Everything about this film is exceptional. The performances are completely believable – from the gnarly old heads to the young troops and the rage-filled kids in the streets. Jack O’Connell, in particular, is magnificent and further enhances his growing reputation. Things look authentically 70s too and the movie makes Belfast seem like a truly terrifying place for a young troop to be stranded.

Having lived most of my life in the UK, I remember the troubles always being at the forefront of the news… the nail bombs, the car explosions, the killing of soldiers, the Brighton bombing, Gerry Adams’ voice being dubbed on the news… and ’71 does an impressive job of giving a microcosmic illustration of this complex political situation, especially considering the bulk of the narrative is set over the course of just a few hours across a handful of streets.

Walking out of the screening, I felt exhausted and as though I’d been punched in the guts. ’71 perfectly balances exhilarating action with genuine melancholy at the futility of war and the tragic deaths of those who get swept up in the fight (as one character puts it:”Thick cunts, sent by rich cunts, to kill poor cunts”).

This gripping film is a reminder of the fragility of life and is an astonishing piece of work. See it.

’71 will be released in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra & Hobart on March 19, and Brisbane & Adelaide on April 16. Meanwhile, the Londoners amongst you can see a special one-off screening of the film at the brilliant Backyard Cinema at Altitude in Milbank Tower on Saturday 14th March. Other films in Backyard Cinema: Awards Season are: Friday 13th March – The Grand Budapest Hotel // Saturday 14th March – The Theory of Everything // Friday 20th March – Boyhood.For more info go to

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend.