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Hillsborough (1996)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Hillsborough (1996)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 5/12/1996
102 minutes, colour
DirectorCharles McDougall
Executive ProducersIan McBride
 Gub Neal
ProducerNicola Shindler
ScreenplayJimmy McGovern
PhotographyBarry Ackroyd

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (Trevor Hicks); Ricky Tomlinson (John Glover); Annabelle Apsion (Jenni Hicks); Rachel Davies (Theresa Glover); Mark Womack (Eddie Spearritt); Tracey Wilkinson (Jan Spearritt)

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The events of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, and the ongoing struggle of the victims' families to achieve justice for the negligence of South Yorkshire police.

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Jimmy McGovern's dramatisation of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster both investigates the police actions which caused it and explores its effects on the victims' families, skilfully using the dramatised documentary form to weave together public issues and private emotion.

Founded in investigative journalism, Hillsborough dramatises court transcripts and documents new evidence which debunks police statements, for instance the supposed lack of decent video surveillance. Hillsborough overtly takes the families' point of view, punctuating the unfolding drama with the later statements to-camera of Hillsborough relatives (as played by actors). McGovern was energised by the passionate response of Hillsborough families to his 1994 Cracker story 'To Be A Somebody', in which the traumatised Albie raged against lies told about the disaster. Given the news currency of the families' campaign for truth, and McGovern's high profile, ITV fast-tracked Hillsborough onto screens in December 1996.

In the opening sequences, McGovern introduces young, passionate football fans, dismantling the myths about drunken 'yobs' stealing from and urinating on the dead, as told by the police and spread by The Sun. The police's stories directly contradict the official Taylor inquiry, which firmly concluded that the police were to blame.

For McGovern, as for Albie, these myths showed the politically-motivated animalisation of working-class groups by governments since the 1984-5 Miner's Strike - indeed, the metal fences which contributed to the disaster were introduced to cage all football grounds in the period. According to McGovern in a 1996 South Bank Show, the derisory compensation offered proved that the state saw the working-class as worthless and expendable.

Hillsborough's impact lies not in polemic but in its raw human drama. Far from airbrushing the families, McGovern achieves his typically strong and nuanced characterisation, showing the dissent within the families' justice campaign and the very human effects of trauma, recrimination and grief. Historical record and drama interact with tremendous power in a scene in which the camera moves from Trevor Hicks' (Christopher Eccleston) public face on a television screen to the next room in which Hicks begs his wife to wash their dead daughters' bedding. Clinging to their memory through smell, Jenni (Annabelle Ansion) accuses him of not caring enough; this scene and the marital breakdown it dramatises are almost unbearably moving.

It is testament to McGovern that newspapers cited Hillsborough as a factor in a new inquiry set up in 1997, although the families' search for accountability goes on.

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. Opening: 'I want the truth' (4:28)
2. No way out (2:11)
3. The Sun: best for lies (2:00)
4. 'It's not my fault' (3:22)
Golden Vision, The (1968)
Ackroyd, Barry (1954-)
Eccleston, Christopher (1964-)
McGovern, Jimmy (1949-)
Tomlinson, Ricky (1939-)
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