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Few films released in 2019 have seemed as timely or as urgent as Lost Lives. Documentarists Michael Hewitt and Diarmuid Lavery have come up with an immensely powerful film about a remarkable artefact: a thumping chronicle written over seven years that stands as an obituary of 3,700 lives taken during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Hewitt and Lavery pull a scene-setting example from the book’s first pages: nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, killed in his bed by an RUC bullet during a riot in August 1969. In the film’s final moments, they add the name of Lyra McKee, the journalist shot by dissident Republicans during rioting in April 2019. Entry by entry, the film constructs a sorrowful history of promise extinguished and offers a pointed reminder of what lurks behind any rollback of the Good Friday agreement.
This simple, effective conceit is given further heft by the who’s-who of Irish acting talent recruited to tackle the judicious, non-partisan phrasing of the five authors (David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea). Ciarán Hinds lends the Rooney story new, tragic life; elsewhere, Adrian Dunbar, Susan Lynch and Kenneth Branagh sound understandably moved or appalled by the waste they describe.
The variation of voices staves off any monotony inherent in the list format, and each story opens up some revealing front. Collectively, they provide a renewed sense of just how widespread and all-consuming the Troubles were, how they caught up combatants and civilians, young and old alike.
Hewitt and Lavery wouldn’t have had to wander far into the archives for visual evidence of the taut, fraught Ireland of yesteryear, yet be warned: there are images here that couldn’t have been shown on the nightly news, interrupting the detachment instilled in the original prose.
The film-makers create jolting contrast: the enduring beauty of the Irish landscape, against today’s gleamingly secure pleasure palaces, built after civil war was replaced by something like peace. Even here, though, Mark Garrett’s roaming camera detects a certain manmade melancholy, and those words and stories keep coming at us, their accumulated weight of detail socking the viewer in the gut and bringing tears to the eyes. Is this a book we really want to reopen?
• Lost Lives is released in the UK on 23 October, for one night only.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Lost Lives review – requiem for victims of the Troubles | Film