If you are worrying, like me, that knowing the ‘big reveal’ of this film (and is there anyone likely to watch it who doesn’t already know it?), don’t worry. That is almost two thirds of the way through and there is a lot more to this film than merely its twist.
I last watched a Neil Jordan film, Angel, when it was shown on Channel 4, UK TV, about thirty years ago. In this film, Jordan returns to some of the same themes – namely Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ and a gentle person’s immersion in the world of violence.
It also stars the same actor, Stephen Rea, in the lead role, here playing Fergus, a misplaced IRA man, too gentle for the role for which he has volunteered. This is not, however, our first impression of him as he is a member of a cell taking a British soldier, Jodie (somewhat oddly played by Forest Whitaker), hostage at gunpoint after Jodie has been led away from a fairground by a young woman Jude (Miranda Richardson, wonderfully menacing here) on the promise of sex. I say “oddly played” as Jodie is a London boy, Tottenham I think, and it seems odd to have an American play the role for such a geographically precise role when he can’t quite get the accent. It wavers and wanders a bit and was distracting at first, although it became less so after ten or fifteen minutes and the performance is otherwise terrific.
Fergus and Jude are among Jodie’s guards and it is while on guard duty that Fergus strikes up a tentative friendship with Jodie. It is by necessity tentative, as the IRA plan is to trade Jodie for one of their own, who is being held and interrogated by the British, under threat of death. If the British do not agree to the trade, the cell will shoot Jodie. With the cell leader Maguire’s (Adrian Dunbar) reluctant approval, against Jude’s wishes, and on the understanding that Jodie will not be allowed to see anyone else but him, Fergus removes Jodie’s mask to let him breathe properly and have a little comfort.
Jodie is all too aware of his likely fate and gets Fergus to promise to look out for his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson), in his local pub in London and make sure she’s ok. Sure enough, the British refuse the trade and although the execution of Jodie does not take place as planned, Fergus finds himself in London to look out for Dil. Meeting her first at the hairdressers where she works and then following her to the pub, Fergus strikes up a relationship, always trying to find out more about her relationship with Jodie but trying not to reveal any prior knowledge. As Dil takes him for Scottish, Fergus accepts his new identity, calling himself ‘Jimmy’ and starting work on a building site under that name so he can earn some money while he gets to know Dil and also hide from his past – which is nonetheless coming to find him…
This film was not at all what I was expecting. For one thing, it is very tender – unusual in a thriller, and very unusual in the early scenes of a kidnap and hostage situation. For another, the structure is a little unusual. It is in three very distinct parts. The first is the kidnap and imprisonment of Jodie in Northern Ireland; the second is Fergus getting to know Dil in London; the last is Fergus trying to resolve his relationships and his past. Each could be viewed as separate episodes, or even as short films in their own right, but when watched as a three-act play, the film looks almost formal in its construction. A terrific, moving and, most of all, warm film.
I’ve got Company of Wolves on DVD to watch, and Byzantium is released here shortly; it certainly won’t be another thirty years before I reacquaint myself with Jordan’s work.