The film “Bloody Sunday”, through it’s use of stylistic features such as shading and using real soldiers, captures a distinct perception that the film is over-archingly true; however, despite the mimicking of the sympathetic British soldier, the film ultimately reflects the speculations of it’s director Paul Greengrass.

In filming the movie in docudrama style (a dramatization of real events) the stylistic aspects (mise-en-scéne) of the film, such as the use of real soldiers and handheld cameras, become “flickers of authenticity” that give the movie a sense of truthfulness and reality.(Blaney, 2007) One important aspect of the look of the film is that it is shot in a style that mimics news footage. The color schemes of the film are all darker shades, with grey and drab green being the dominant look. 

 

  Giles Livesey, senior colorist at the Digital Film Lab in London, describes how in order to maximize the film’s 1970’s appearance he used stock footage of the time as a grade against which he altered the chemistry of the film through bleach bypass processing. He also corrected brightly colored clothing worn by extras, which was inharmonious with the dominant, shaded tones of many of the scenes and inconsistent with the muted color quality of television and photographic images belonging to the period. (2007)

By contrasting the film’s footage with footage indicative of the time period when the actual event happened, the movie gains an aspect of authenticity and makes the audience believe they are watching the events in real-time. The film also employs the use of real soldiers to help bring an authentic feel to the scenes in which British “paras” are in action against the marchers. By having real soldiers acting out the situations, actual military techniques and dialogue are represented in the film and the scenes take on the element of realism. Greengrass describes the use of the real soldiers as a crucial element in the film: “So when we decided to use real soldiers, people who’d actually served in Northern Ireland, and had their own memories of the conflict, and had lost friends, it gave a reality and gave the whole piece an edge.”(2007) 

This overall realness of both character and visual appearance lend to a viewing experience that appeals to both the historically educated and the uniformed. This is especially true in some of the dramatic representations of events that are documented with archived footage. The scene in which Barney McGuigan, who is waving a white kerchief, is shot in front of a group of civilians as he is attempting to help an injured man is a perfect example. “Since the film’s reenactment of the moments leading up to and following McGuigan’s famous gesture with the white handkerchief replicates relevant archival imagery in the public domain, iconic images of McGuigan, for a community of informed viewers, ghost the actor’s appearance in the role and bolster the overall historical authority of the sequence. For uniformed viewers, the film style communicates the scene’s basis in history.”(Blaney, 2007) As viewers watch the film, scenes either help reinforce their memories of the event, or help new memories form that they will remember after the movie ends. 

As the film becomes more and more real for the audience, a plot line of a sympathetic British soldier helps to maintain a sense of objectivity. The inclusion of the sympathetic British “para” helps to keep the audience from making a broad generalization in which they paint all British military men as the bad guys. “By presenting alternate representations of the Paras, the film extends the range of its address and, in doing so, dramatizes the complexity of historical forces which culminated in the day of violence and avoids the more conventional device of the Manichean narrative, which would have indiscriminately vilified all the Parachute Regiment on active service that day.”(2007) At times when the majority of the soldiers are looking aggressive in combating the civilians, several close-ups are used of the sympathetic ‘para’, whose face shows troubled expressions. When several soldiers report back after the shooting, bragging about their exploits, he confronts them by saying, “I saw what happened. I saw you shoot civies.”(2007) The audience sees two sides of the British military which keeps them from making one major judgement. The film also includes several shots of IRA members sitting in a car, which also helps to add some speculation as to what actually happened to start the conflict. 

Although some aspects of the film are included to avoid harsh generalizations, “Bloody Sunday” still takes on the director’s (Greengrass) belief that the British troops ultimately fired the first shot in the conflict that led to so many deaths. In a statement by Greengrass, he explains how the movie reflects the viewpoint that IRA gunmen fired shots only after the British military had opened fire: “We show one of the stickies [official IRA] firing off a few rounds from a handgun after the shooting started. We would never have heard of Bloody Sunday again if it had stopped there. However, at that point things began to take a morally much darker tone and by the time they rounded the corner into Glenfada Park we had slaughter, simple as that.”(Gibbons, 2002) The movie shows IRA members with guns only after the first killings had taken place, placing blame squarely on the shoulders of the British. 

This viewpoint doesn’t reflect the confusion surrounding the initial gunshots fired that was present in the first media coverage of the event and is still unclear today. In an article from the Guardian the day following the event, the reporter who was actually on scene couldn’t even decide which side fired first. He indicates that the IRA may have fired the first shot: 

Then, at 4.05 pm, a single shot was fired in William Street, presumable by an IRA man. The Provisionals had been under strict local orders to keep their guns at home and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association stewards did their best to look out for possible gunmen… There was certainly some firing from the IRA. I heard one submachine-gun open up from inside the flats and heard a number of small-calibre weapons being fired intermittently, but the sound which predominated was the heavy, hard banging of the British SLRs, and this continued for about 10 or 15 minutes. (Winchester, 1972)

 

With both the IRA and the British military firing shots and the confusion following, it is nearly impossible to know who actually started the killing, despite Greengrass’s fervent belief that it was the ‘paras’. 

The film “Bloody Sunday” presents the audience with a layer of realism that helps bring the killings to life. Scenes in the movie reflect documented images and footage from the time period and add to the feel of authenticity that make the film seem real. With this realism however, the subjective view of the director must also be noted and the film must still be seen as having an element of drama and fiction. 

References

Blaney, A. (2007). Remembering historical trauma in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday. History & Memory, 19(2), 113-138. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Gibbons, F. (2002, January 7) Bloody Sunday’s truths and tragedies. The Guardian. retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/jan/07/northernireland.filmnews

Winchester, S. (1972, January 31). 13 killed as paratroopers break riot. The Guardian. retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/jan/07/northernireland.filmnews