Directed by Yann Dimange (2014)
A gripping and highly coiled thriller about an English soldier deployed to Belfast in Northern Ireland at the absolute height of The Troubles, and who, in exceptionally short order, is pinned down and separated from his unit in the fog of war and spends a harrowing night in the (gulp) Catholic part of town trying to stay alive. The soldiers in his unit have barely had a day to even learn about the difference between the “old” IRA and the newer, more violent “provisional” IRA before they’re thrust in the middle of a bloody street battle that claims the life of one solider and drives the rest of them fleeing in terror from an onslaught of rocks and bottles, leaving one man behind to fend for himself.
Jack O’Donnell plays our forsaken and wayward soldier, and he really doesn’t have to say much in “’71” to demonstrate through wide eyes and facial tics how utterly shit-your-pants terrifying such a situation must have been to the UK soldiers who tried to maintain order in this area in the early 70s. The violence of this time was off the charts, and it’s an area with no medics, no real policing and mostly people who stay in the homes behind locked doors. The sectarian mood is established early, when the English soldiers roll into the neighborhood, and every woman from the young to the aged, begins methodically banging metal garbage lids on the cement to summon the IRA thugs to confront them. A phenomenal scene, backed with a terrifically ominous score throughout the whole film by David Holmes.
Understandably, the confusion – a word summoned with regularity throughout the film – extends to the IRA factions, the Protestant Ulster mobs and within the ranks of the English Army themselves. There are no winners here. I’d proudly put this one up very close to 2002's “Bloody Sunday” on my list of must-see films about Northern Ireland in the 70s.