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Precious Blood, The (1996)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Precious Blood, The (1996)
For Screen Two, BBC, tx. 8/6/1996
76 minutes, colour
DirectorJohn Woods
Production CompanyBBC Northern Ireland
ProducersTony Rowe
 Robert Cooper
ScreenplayGraham Reid
PhotographyPaul Wheeler

Cast: Amanda Burton (Roisin (Rosie) Willis); Kevin McNally (Billy McVea); Michael Legge (John Willis); Michelle Fairley (Jean McBride)

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In Belfast, a former UVF killer has become a preacher but has yet to atone for his crimes. A Catholic mother whose Protestant husband was murdered finds it impossible to forgive in a post-ceasefire atmosphere of reconciliation, while her son looks for an identity and a father figure.

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The Precious Blood is, as its biblical title implies, a high tragedy. The blood is literal - the blood of the murdered Paul whose memory Rosie and John so revere - but also metaphorical, both in its religious connotations and in 'the blood' that defines and divides communities in Northern Ireland. Writer Graham Reid's ability to convey the conflicts both within and between people in the province makes this a work of enormous power and brings out the complexities behind the prospect of reconciliation.

Billy is a man tormented by his past, who has sought to solve his problems by exchanging one set of fundamental beliefs (loyalism) for another (born-again Christianity). As his ever more conflicted sermons show, however, this cannot provide atonement for his past crimes. Even his wife tells him that, though God has forgiven him, she might not be able to if she knew their full extent. Much as he prays for salvation, he cannot transform his character - illustrated by his betrayal of former associate Davie Bell. Despite his pleas to the UVF boss not to hurt him, he knows he will cause his death. In the end, meeting Rosie and John gives him the only real redemption possible - confession and giving up his freedom.

Rosie sees the lies and horror covered up by reconciliation and the peace process. However, her raw grief and hatred are not a viable or appropriate option for society. It is to Reid's credit that he does not make the debate on forgiveness any easier for us. Rosie has sacrificed her Catholic identity and John tries to assert a violent Protestant one to assuage his grief, but both remain trapped by the divisions of Ulster society. In the end, the world they live in is a series of betrayals (Paul not telling Rosie he was a paramilitary, Billy killing Paul, John discovering that his bereavement was down to his 'own side') that reiterate the absence of easy answers within that kind of moral landscape. As Protestants and Catholics do not understand each other so Rosie does not understand John, and Billy, dismissed by his own father, resents his own son.

This kind of tragedy calls for, and gets, the very highest standard of acting. Kevin McNally is outstanding as Billy, while Amanda Burton, a huge mainstream TV star, gives her finest performance as Rosie, a woman utterly consumed by grief.

Phil Wickham

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Video Clips
1. 'Where's the stuff?' (3:54)
2. No rebate on suffering (2:05)
3. The truth (4:31)
4. John (4:34)
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