The film Bloody Sunday graphically depicts the 1972 battle that fueled further development of the Provisional IRA. Catholics and Protestants, namely civil rights marchers and the British Paramilitary respectively, pitted against in each other in a deadly representation of the political unrest between these two groups. The Irish Catholics in the film marched to Guildhall, a British council setting, to demonstrate their political dissatisfaction. Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland have historically fought for independence from oppressive British rule, and the Provisional IRA embodies the extremity of this political opposition with religious roots. The Official IRA declared ceasefire the year of Bloody Sunday in an attempt at peace, and since then the term IRA has referred to the Provisional IRA, which has brought the IRA the association with terrorism it has today ( The film Bloody Sunday reenacted an historical event that captured the intensity of Catholic-Protestant tensions in Northern Ireland, but it is important to consider how fair this film was. Additionally, the genre of the film, “mockumentary”, is vital to the message that the film sends.

Ivan Cooper's love story

Bloody Sunday primarily conveyed sentiments of the marchers and, more generally, the Irish Catholics. Two love stories that guided the storyline provided intimate disclosure of the lives of the Catholic civil rights advocates. The love story of a Catholic marcher involved with a Protestant woman essentially only revealed the turmoil of the marcher and his sister, as they discussed the danger of the relationship. The second love story, that of Ivan Cooper, politician and leader of the march for civil rights, enhanced the viewer’s familiarity with the Catholics in the film. In contrast to the love stories of the Irish Catholics, the scenes that featured the British Paramilitary depicted the members as merciless and fearless, with men congregating to formulate and execute fierce strategies.

British Army, depicting Protestants as merciless fighters

The emotions of members of the Paramilitary were minimally addressed. The only emotions of Paramilitary members that the viewer encounters is the shame that they express when being questioned about the excessive forced used against marchers. The viewer may have a difficult time feeling remorse for these soldiers, since their blunders were deadly and their justifications meager. Soldiers were told repeatedly to ceasefire, but failed to do so. Additionally, soldiers were told to follow the Yellow Card, which specified rules of engagement, including the rule that they must warn before firing ( Members of the British military attempted to justify their actions by stating that they were attacked by hooligans with stones and they suspected that the marchers were carrying weapons. Killing 13 marchers hardly seems justified under these circumstances, especially with the brutal reenactment of the killing vivid in the viewer’s memory. Not only were gunshots reenacted, but the struggle afterwards of victims and loved ones was reenacted and created sorrow and remorse in the audience for the marchers. Feeling anything but spite and anger towards the Paramilitary after these devastating events could prove difficult. The film characterizes them as undisciplined and undeserving of empathy. In addition to these powerful influences the filmmaker has over the viewer to express which side is ‘correct’, Ivan Cooper gives a speech during the march in which he refers to Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. This appeal to higher authorities might enhance the viewer’s loyalty to the marchers’ cause, which is a classic fight for civil rights, in this case against the British. By associating beloved civil rights advocates with himself and his own causes, Ivan Cooper further legitimized the marchers’ fight against internment and oppression. The filmmaker’s inclusion of these powerful words, along with Ivan Cooper’s implied support for the IRA, added to the film’s support for the ‘correct’ side of the conflict. Furthermore, the film’s genre, “mockumentary”, really brought the event to life and displayed the reality of Catholic sentiments in particular.

The first noticeable technique that the film used to make the reenactment seem real was the camera work. Scene changes had no transitions and would abruptly switch back and forth between two settings. Cameras also seem to take on the perspective of a spectator of the events, panning naturally as a person would and sometimes running with marchers dodging bullets. The lack of music also makes scenes seem more real and convincing. Music in films is used to sensationalize events, but this ‘mockumentary’ does not need to sensationalize an already intense, real event. Actors in the film also contribute to the sense of reality that is created by speaking as if they had not staged or rehearsed the scenes. Speech is natural, with pauses and ‘uhms’ to make the conversations as close to real as possible. Another aspect of the film that makes it seem so real is the explicitness of the suffering of victims and families of victims. The viewer sees not only victims being killed, but also sees their families’ turmoil. When families were told that their loved ones had passed away, their expressions were real and vivid. This aspect of the aftermath of an event is often overlooked, but the suffering is a real consequence that, when addressed, brings the impact full-circle. Bloody Sunday portrays the reality of Catholic sentiment in Northern Ireland in 1972 and in order to more fully understand the circumstances, the social and historical context should be considered.

Catholics and Protestants in the United Kingdom have historically experienced relational discord ( and Catholic sentiments are made quite clear; specifically, they wish to rid Northern Ireland of British rule. The IRA has gone as far as using terrorist tactics to send their message to political enemies, and they have gathered much support by people who feel the cause is justified. British media pay more attention to events involving the IRA than those involving Al-Qaeda (Moeller, 2009), which suggests the intensity of the political struggle. Interestingly, the IRA’s terrorist tactics are seen as more justified than those of groups such as Al-Qaeda. For example, Markela, a student at the American College of Greece, feels that the IRA’s violent outbursts were inevitable given the oppression experienced as a result of British rule. This does not mean that the acts are right or good, but simply suggests that the IRA has created a following of people who understand. There is clearly another side to this conflict, that of the British Protestants, and when Irish attacks against the British are covered, political implications are not discussed in British media and only British officials are interviewed (Barnett, 2009). This could perhaps indicate that the British, as well, see the inevitability in the situation and see that oppression can ultimately lead to violent revolt. The film Bloody Sunday is a good example of, despite violent and brutal strategies of the IRA, an understanding shared by those who feel oppressed in Northern Ireland. The Official IRA, and at times the Provisional IRA, would declare ceasefire and aim for peace, but the IRA remains active and politically unsatisfied (

Prejudice with regards to religiosity has naturally arisen out of this intense opposition, but social psychological research indicates that desegregation of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, which ideally results in intergroup friendships, could help eliminate intergroup anxiety. Having simple positive contact with members of an out-group has proven helpful in reducing prejudicial attitudes. Although prejudice between Protestants and Catholics will not be entirely eliminated any time soon, reducing these harmful out-group beliefs has been possible mainly through desegregation in schools (Paolini et al., 2004).

Bloody Sunday expresses political sentiments of Irish Catholics through very real cinema, and these sentiments are widely shared. The IRA may be considered a terrorist organization, but the oppression that the Irish Catholics have historically experienced has served as a political excuse for the aggressive actions. Whether or not these actions are justified though is an ethical dilemma, and prejudice arises from opposing thoughts on this dilemma, which adds to religious and political prejudice already present. The conflict between Irish Catholics and Protestants is so pervasive that it seems that there is no end in sight to the political discord.


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Paolini, S., Hewstone, M., Cairns, E., & Voci, A. (2004). Effects of direct and indirect cross-group friendships on judgments of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: The mediating role of an anxiety-reduction mechanism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(6), 770-786.

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