Thursday, 13 June 2019

FILM REVIEW: Unquiet Graves - HOME, Manchester

The film, directed by Se├ín Murray, is based on the book ‘Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland’ by Anne Cadwallader; a former English journalist working in Northern Ireland and now a case worker for ‘The Pat Finucane Centre for Human Rights' in Armagh. The book was admitted as evidence in the current court case being brought by the families of the victims and the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team. The PSNI, Police Service of Northern Ireland, is currently appealing the judgement for an official investigation and report.

‘Unquiet Graves’ is a powerful, affecting and revealing documentary on the victims of the Glenanne Gang and the collusion with the British Security Services. The film covers the murders committed by an informal alliance of various Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and military personnel from the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Regiment known as the Glenanne Gang. These men were responsible for over 120 murders in the counties of Tyrone and Armagh (known as the ‘Triangle of Death’) throughout the 1970s, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 which killed 33 and injured nearly 300. However, it is the alleged collusion by the British Security Forces with loyalist paramilitaries that is at the heart of the film, the book and the court case. 

While some would like to see justice done in the courts, many simply want acknowledgment of the truth and the historical miscarriages of justices. The film suggests evidence that shows that the bombers and shooters were known and, in some cases, even tried, but never imprisoned. At the time of this screening, 20 family members of the victims have already died without that closure. The documentary utilises interviews, crime scene footage, animated illustration and reconstructions to lay out the timeline of the murders and subsequent investigations. The reconstructions are harshly recreated as Murray is reported to have been very concerned about not ‘pulling punches’. And he doesn’t. The film names names, the interviews with bereaved family members are raw and upsetting, and the interview with former Glenanne Gang member and whistleblower, John Weir, is chillingly matter-of-fact, even when recounting a never-completed plan to attack a Primary School. A plan that was only aborted due to concerns that they were being manipulated by British Intelligence. 

The criticisms I have of the film are minor; the timeline is initially hard to follow as the narrative lacks any clear dates though this does improve and it is a little too short. The case is very clearly laid out and what evidence is shown seems damning but it is a short film at 75 minutes. So those looking for detailed explanations and clear explorations of evidence would almost certainly be better off reading the book. However, the film serves as an excellent introductory primer into the case, highlighting key points and milestones within the investigation. 

And it is clear from the Q+A held after the film that an introduction is sorely needed; several questions missed the point entirely while others were only loosely relevant. Overall the film is very well constructed and succeeds in creating outrage and support in its audience. The film’s emotional core is handled sensitively and is never sanitised, and it closes beautifully with a list of the dead and a reading of the poem ‘Strand At Lough Beg’ by Seamus Heaney, written for his cousin who was murdered by the Glenanne Gang. 

Details of upcoming screenings and DVD preorders can be found on the film’s website:

Reviewer - Deanna Turnbull
on - 12/6/19

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