SOURCE: bfi Monthly Film Bulletin Vol 48 No 575, December 1981, p.251


Great Britain, 1981    Directors: Pat Murphy. John Davies

Dist‑BFI. p.c‑BFI Production Board. In association with Radio Telefis Eireann. p. managers‑(Belfast) Kate McManus, John Davies, Alastair Herron, Pat Murphy, Robert Smith. sc‑Pat Murphy. ph‑Robert Smith. Fujicolor. 2nd camera‑David Barker. addit. ph‑Jane Clark. asst. phEllin Hare. ed‑John Davies. a.d‑(none). props‑Tom Osborne. M "One Day at a Time" by Marijon Wilkins, Kris Kristofferson, performed by Molly Brambeld & the Country Four; "Structure *4" by Robert Boyle; "Perfect Avalanche" by Desmond Simmonds, Rob Gotobed; "Concordat", "Rodrigo" by Pete Nu. cost‑Elizabeth McCrum, Elise Taylor. sd. rec‑Chris Renty. sd. re‑rec‑Colin Martin. 1.p‑Mary Jackson (Maeve Sweeney), Mark Mulholland (Martin Sweeney), Brid Brennan (Roisin Sweeney), Trudy Kelly (Edeen Sweeney), John Keegan (Liam Doyle), Nuala McCann (Young Maeve), George Shane (Causeway Man), Aingeal Greghan (Joan O'Neill), Carmel Greglian (Carmel Noonan), Mel Austin (Joe Sweeney), Justin Duff (Colm Sweeney), Billy Kane (Frank Doyle), Lucie Jamieson (Woman in Hospital), Sheila Graham (Mrs. Mellroy), Hugh McCarthy (Airport Security), Mike Vernon (Seeker Ibr Lost Knowledge), Rob Gotobed and Dave Smythe (Men at Party), Raymond Gardner (Young McQuade), Brid Davidson (Young Raisin), Jackie Donnelly (Taxi Driver), Peter Quigley (Brother‑in‑law), Brendan Burns, Niall Cusack, Sieve Donaldson, Austin Herron, Michael Kinsella, Brian Lynch and Gerry McLoughlin (Soldiers), Margaret McDonald and Seamus McGarry (Checkpoint Security), Margaret Lockhead, Susie Davidson and Margaret Keenan (Nuns), Ann‑Marie Robinson, Clare Robinson, Deirdre McManus, Jean Gardner and Paula Murphy (Schoolgirls), Elizabeth Gardner and Teresa O'Kane (Children on Swing). 3,906 ft. 109 mins. (16).

Maeve Sweeney, a twenty‑year‑old Ulster exile living in London, returns for a week's holiday in Belfast. Finding that she has grown apart from her old boyfriend, Liam Doyle, she stays instead with her father Martin, mother Eileen and younger sister Roisin in their home near the Falls Road. After a bomb alert in the neighbourhood, she recalls events from the past: the family's eviction from their home in a Protestant ghetto, and subsequent trips to sites of Celtic mythology. Roisin is stopped one night by the army on her way home from the bar where she works, and later tells Maeve about an incident when a soldier tried to rape her at a party. Liam takes Maeve to a Republican club, where she loses her temper with his Provisional friends. Martin Sweeney recalls his own Republican past, and Roisin relates a story about her mother's resilience during her father's prolonged periods of unemployment. Roisin also talks to Maeve about her feminist beliefs, concluding that her newfound ideals are irrelevant to the family's present needs. When the two sisters join their old schoolfriends for a night out, Maeve's sophisticated inhibitions soon disappear and, while soldiers and terrorists exchange fire in the distance, she collapses drunkenly in the street. Eileen recalls her daughter's departure for London, while Maeve recollects the visit from Liam that led to their first serious quarrel. Their disagreements increase when Liam accuses Maeve of losing both her identity and integrity by cutting herself off from her Irish past. Still unable to identify with Celtic mythology after a family trip to the Giants Causeway, Maeve laments that even her father no longer knows, since the Troubles have broken up his home and family, what the Republican struggle hopes to achieve.

Maeve, the film as much as the character, seems to have the worst of the two worlds which they both try bravely, if in vain, to reconcile. The eponymous heroine, on a return visit to Belfast, finds that her metropolitan faith in feminism and “body politics” is remote from the reality of Provincial life. Similarly, the film's formal strategies serve to keep the dreaded conventions of psychodrama at a distance without supplying any coherent perspective of their own. A narrative that shuffles between melodrama, political history, documentary and fairy‑tale falls into the same trap of circular argument as its subjects. The inherent contradictions of this many‑sided approach are most clearly revealed in a key scene between Maeve and Liam Doyle, her boyfriend, who tells her that they have to break away from the British fictions they are living out. Maeve replies that his republicanism is itself based on pure fiction, to which Liam, betraying the intransigence of the insider, retorts, “It's better than living no story at all". Given that an historical treatment of Maeve's “marginalisation” precludes any central framing of the lead character, it seems almost wilfully counter‑productive to have added a further distancing layer of didacticism. Occasionally, the fractured format (in which personal reminiscences function like interviews) does allow the main themes to emerge quite naturally and “invisibly”. In one excellent sequence, Maeve begins a night on the town sophisticatedly aloof from her old Belfast girlfriends only to end it, as the rival armed forces engage in a nearby gun battle, rolling in the gutter with the best of them. The street‑level viewpoint proves by far the most successful of the film's various angles, because the characters are seen to have some choices of their own to make. But the film's overall, consciously historical critique fails to expose the particular social mechanisms at work within one specific family living in a closely defined area of Belfast. In his essay "Uses of Photography", John Berger wrote, "Narrated time becomes historical time when it is assumed by social memory and social action”. For all its determined de‑mystification, Maeve never really uncovers that “social memory and social action" behind the mythological mask.


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