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Contact (1985)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Contact (1985)
DirectorAlan Clarke
Production CompanyBBC TV
ProducerTerry Coles

Cast: Sean Chapman; John Blundell, Ozzie Stevens; Jason Culiffe; Steve Fletcher; Graham Fletcher-Cook

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A platoon of British soldiers on patrol in Northern Ireland, under constant threat from unseen assailants.

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Contact is based on the memoirs of AFN Clarke, an ex-paratrooper who served extensively in Northern Ireland. Directed by Alan Clarke with little in the way of plot, the film successfully captures the fear, confusion and bravery of uniformed soldiers fighting against an unseen enemy.

Shot in a documentary style, Contact follows a platoon of paras on border patrol in South Armagh. In between stop-and-search duties and exchanges of fire with seemingly invisible assailants, the tension is ratcheted up through long periods of seemingly endless walking. With little talk between the soldiers aside from the giving and receiving of orders, most of the platoon remains largely anonymous, the exception being the captain whose jadedness is conveyed largely without dialogue by Sean Chapman's excellent physical performance.

The platoon's eerie encounters - a silent meeting with an elderly couple living in a secluded farmhouse, the frozen faces of two children camping outside their parents' caravan, terrified by the late night visit of soldiers - are reminiscent of Willard's bizarre meetings in Apocalypse Now (US, d. Francis Coppola, 1979), albeit without such grandiose aspirations as Coppola's Vietnam film: Contact is a lower-key depiction of a lower-key conflict.

Contact has been criticised for neither engaging with the thorny question of why British soldiers are in Northern Ireland nor offering an opinion on their presence. But the film was never intended as a political discussion of the conflict or as a propagandist piece for either (any) side. Rather, Clarke's intention was to accurately depict the experiences of professional soldiers and how they cope with the situations they find themselves in. Like so many of Clarke's dramas, Contact deliberately eschews wordy debate of political or social issues in favour of exploring their consequences on the lives of those they affect.

Justin Hobday

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Video Clips
1. The briefing (0:59)
2. The bomb (3:59)
3. A booby-trap? (3:33)
4. Child surveillance (2:10)
Elephant (1989)
Clarke, Alan (1935-1990)
Alan Clarke and Northern Ireland