It’s time for Round 2 of independent films from the Shooting Gallery. The first batch in early 2000 unleashed the the previously ignored but brilliant breakout hit, “Croupier”. The first of the new batch to shoot for that film’s success is the movie Roger Michell directed before last year’s “Notting Hill,” “Titanic Town”.
The town in question is Belfast in 1972. The iceberg into which it crashes is the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the occupational British forces. Bernie McPhelimy (Julie Walters) moves into what would appear to be a nice suburban neighborhood with her husband and four children. That illusion is shattered immediately. The family wakes to the sounds of IRA snipers shooting at helicopters. Tanks roll through the streets and soldiers search all of the houses and arrest the neighbors. When Bernie’s best friend is walking down a city street with Bernie’s oldest son, she’s killed by a stray bullet.
Soon, Bernie has had enough. Between the government treating the entire population like criminals and the IRA using them as shields, all she wants is for everyone to take it outside and leave the innocents alone. The mother of four starts a peace movement. She and other mothers meet with the leaders on both sides. Bernie quickly finds celebrity. Unfortunately, many of the Belfast natives take an “either you’re with us or against us” stance against this third party and this is where Bernie’s troubles really begin. Instead of protecting her family, a new atmosphere of violence soon tears them apart.
Now, I’ve seen so many dramas about the conflict in Northern Ireland that, not unlike lesbian coming-of-age flicks, they all blur together after awhile unless they really have some new angle. Thankfully, “Titanic Town” has one in its focus on the effects of the strain on domestic life. Much attention goes to elder daughter Annie (Nuala O’Neill), who’s having a difficult time entering womanhood amongst all the politics and paranoia. The scenes that stick with you are ones of mundane, everyday life constantly interrupted by bombs or bullets. A great moment occurs when Annie flirts with a young man on a bus, and then they both really, really, really have to get the hell off the bus.
Michell has made a haunting, often brilliant film with specific purpose. While Bernie is attempting to make the IRA and the British aware of the damaging repercussions of their battles upon the people on whose behalf they are supposedly acting, she herself is unaware of how her crusade is destroying her own children. “Titanic Town” is critical of both sides while sympathetic to both (more so to the Irish), but maintains an awareness that any conflict will have its losers. Too often it’s the innocents who never wanted to play in the first place.