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Love Lies Bleeding (1993)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Love Lies Bleeding (1993)
For Screenplay, BBC, tx. 22/9/1993, colour, 89 mins
DirectorMichael Winterbottom
Production CompaniesBBC Northern Ireland, Télécip
ProducerRobert Cooper
ScriptRonan Bennett
PhotographyEric Gillespie

Cast: Mark Rylance (Conn Ellis), Elisabeth Bourgine (Sophie Allen), John Kavanagh (Sean Kerrigan), Brendan Gleeson (Thomas Macken), Tony Doyle (Geordie Wilson), James Nesbitt (Niall)

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On the eve of a possible IRA ceasefire, Con Ellis is one of several prisoners released on 24-hour leave. In his day outside, Con determines to find the truth behind the death of his lover, who he believes was killed by Loyalists.

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Love Lies Bleeding is the first of several Northern Ireland dramas exploring the complexities of the peace process. These films ask whether peace can occur in a community accustomed to violence, and if previous hurts can be forgotten or forgiven in order to create a new society. Love Lies Bleeding, broadcast in September 1993, actually anticipates the first IRA ceasefire, which began some months later. Even more than the later films on the subject, it is based around the desire for revenge and the search for a collective redemption.

The film is also notable as an early work by Michael Winterbottom, who has since become one of Britain's most prolific and eclectic feature filmmakers with titles such as Jude (1996) and 24 Hour Party People (2002). His confidence with the camera, fast pacing, and powerful reading of set piece scenes are already evident here, especially in sequences like the meeting at Sinn Fein's HQ and Con and Sophie's visit to The Bluebell.

The film is written by former Republican prisoner Ronan Bennett, who has also gone onto further success with screenplays and particularly novels (such as Havoc). His script is very strong on the political ambiguities and intrigues of contemporary Northern Ireland, raising questions without offering easy answers and making us ambivalent about Thomas's actions. The narrative is pacy and exciting and full of surprising revelations. The process of disclosure, always a knotty problem with thrillers, is controlled adeptly.

Rather less successful though is the characterisation, and consequently the performances. Con is so passive, and his obsession with Layla so hazy (despite the rather hackneyed 8mm 'dream' sequences of her cavorting over sand dunes), that he does not really engage our interest and Mark Rylance has to resort to scowling a lot. The major weakness, however, is the character of Sophie, a laughably enigmatic Frenchwoman straight from central casting who detracts from the realism of the piece, existing solely as a convenient lift for Con in his various quests. In contrast, as always, Brendan Gleeson is fantastic as Thomas, conveying perfectly a man who can be murderous and reasonable at the same time. His final scene with Con in his cell really makes Love Lies Bleeding work as a political thriller.

Phil Wickham

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Video Clips
1. Waiting for Thomas (5:40)
2. The Bluebell (4:57)
3. Pursuing Alex (3:22)
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