Titanic Town
In February 2000, The Shooting Gallery in partnership with Loews Cineplex Entertainment launched a film
series consisting of independent films that were deserving of a release but had mostly only been seen on the
film festival circuit. Included were such gems as <I>Judy Berlin, Orphans<R> and the surprise arthouse hit
<I>Croupier.<R> Now comes the second series including <I>Human Resources<R> and <I>A Time for
Drunken Horses<R> and inaugurated by <I>Titanic Town,<R> a comedy-drama adapted by Anne Devlin
from Mary Costello's autobiographical novel and skillfully directed by Roger Michell (<I>Persuasion, Notting
Hill<R>).<p>
While the Troubles in Northern Ireland date back several hundred years, in the second half of the 20th
Century, the animosity between the Protestants and Catholics and the Catholics and the British reached a
fever pitch. 1968 was a pivotal year: while the United States was contending with the assassinations of
Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, the growing anti-war movement and its protestations of American
involvement in Vietnam, and the burgeoning sexual revolution, the residents of Northern Ireland were faced
with almost daily violence. The IRA would strike against the British army which would retaliate by rounding up
citizens and taking them in for questioning. In the thirty-plus years since that outbreak of violence, several
films and TV movies have addressed the topic, ranging from the Emmy-winning <I>A War of Children<R> to
<I>Some Mother's Son<R> to <I>Titanic Town.<R><p>
The opening scene introduces us to the McPhelimy family as they are moving into their new home on an
estate in Andersontown in West Belfast. There's Aidan (the marvelously hangdog Ciaran Hinds), the
unemployed father ill with ulcers, Bernie (the brilliant Julie Walters), the no-nonsense matriarch, Annie
(newcomer Nuala O'Neill, a real find), the boys Thomas and Brendan (James Loughran and Barry Loughran,
respectively) and the baby, Sinead (Elizabeth Donaghy, a heartbreaker in training). As Annie recounts in the
voice-over, "When I was sixteen, my mother became a celebrity." Just how Bernie achieved that status is the
main plot.<p>
Like all the residents of Andersontown, the McPhelimys have learned to live with the constant sounds of
hovering helicopters, shots ringing out at random and the arrival of British tanks. It seems almost
unimaginable but people did live through it. (Indeed screenwriter Devlin grew up in Northern Ireland not far
from the novelist, and her experiences undoubtedly helped tailor the richly detailed script.) Bernie, however,
is like a lioness protecting her children and her home. One evening, she even rushes out of the house to
chase away an errant IRA gunman from her property. It is only when her best friend Mary McCoy (Veronica
Duffy) is accidentally killed in crossfire that Bernie is pushed to take some sort of action.<p>
Much to the consternation of her family, she attends a meeting with other locals that has been arranged by
middle-class Protestant women who claim to be aiming for peace. While several of the more vocal residents
of Andersontown view Bernie's attendance as a betrayal, especially after she is quoted out of context about
the IRA, Bernie only becomes more determined to stop the shooting, even if she has to do it
single-handedly.<p>
Her actions have negative consequences on her family, though, which she fails to recognize as she becomes
caught up in her peace initiatives. Aidan continues to suffer from a bleeding ulcer while her children are
tormented and teased at school. Annie, at sixteen, particularly feels the pressure. Her school friends ignore
her just as she enters into her first serious relationship with a medical student (Ciaran McMenamin of the
BBC/PBS production of <I>David Copperfield<R>) who is harboring his own secrets.<p>
As he demonstrated in <I>Persuasion,<R> Michell is capable of taking a foreign world and making it
accessible to cinemagoers. The manner in which he juxtaposes the everyday with the surreal is fascinating
and disturbing, particularly as the director maintains a relatively light touch except when necessary. For
example, one scene shows a street with children playing and people bustling about. But it soon becomes
apparent that these "normal" activities are unfolding under the watchful eye of British soldiers and this relative
placidity is soon shattered by random gunshots. Similarly, a quiet bus ride is interrupted by rock-throwing
hooligans who completely destroy the vehicle.<p>
Bernie's rise to celebrity, though, remains the main focus of the piece that allows Julie Walters to seize
center stage and deliver an absolutely magnificent portrait of an ordinary person who attempt to achieve
extraordinary things. Walters successfully conveys the determination and grit of a woman driven by the need
to protect her children. When she delivers a stirring monologue that is a plea to stop the violence in order to
save the next generation, she could just as easily be speaking to any number of societies in today's world.
Although the film is dominated by Walters, she is ably supported by the rest of the cast, all of whom give
terrific performances. The editing of Kate Evans, the production design of Pat Campbell and the
cinematography of John Daly also deserve mention. <I>Titanic Town<R> (so named because Belfast was
where that doomed vessel was built but also because it reflects the reality of living in a world where a
metaphysical iceberg can be struck at any time) is a fine way for The Shooting Gallery to kick off its second
film series and whet the appetite for the future entries.

<5> Murphy, Ted
US Distributor: The Shooting Gallery
MPAA rating: NONE (language, some sexuality)
Running time: 96 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.