Film maker Paul Greengrass took a different approach to the retelling of the events of January 30, 1972 than a traditional documentary.  Greengrass realized that since his film would be broadcast to a television audience that already knew the events of Bloody Sunday, that he would need to present them with something more than just  a retelling.  Thus, he decided to take a more human perspective for the movie. 

He focuses on four people throughout the film and tells the story of Bloody Sunday from their eyes.  In this way, the film maker creates a sense of pathos with these characters.  The audience learns to understand their roles and begins to appreciate the situation that these four people were in.  It also allows for a way to show that perhaps not everyone is remembered the way that they should be.

            One of the first characters who is introduced in the movie is Ivan Cooper, a Protestant member of Parliament who is one of the main organizers of the march of January 30th.  Ivan is presented as the most obvious protagonist of the movie, and someone who is a representation of the people who held to the peaceful movement towards civil rights.  The movie takes a bit of artistic license with his character however.  In the actual events, Ivan was not the main leader of the march  (BBC News, 2004).  Two of the other characters present in the movie, Eamonn McCann and Bernadette Devlin were actually much more involved than Ivan (Blaney, 2007).  However, Greengrass decides to use Ivan as a metaphor.  Ivan is the epitome of the movement’s spirit from the strong belief in its ability to succeed at the beginning to his absolute shock at the way the march ended at the conclusion of the movie.  In this way, the film makers are able to create a sense of connection between the audience and the movement.  Greengrass wants the audience to come closer to Ivan in order to understand what the movement was fighting for.  Ivan is a relative unknown for viewers who are not particularly knowledgeable about the events that happened that day.  Eamonn and Bernadette on the other hand were very important to both the movement and march.  Trying to use them to represent the movement would not have worked.  In order to achieve his goal of creating a sense of closeness to the movement, Greengrass went with Cooper.  This also plays into his own prejudices as presented in the movie. Throughout, there is never any reason to not have faith in Ivan.  He, like the movement, is presented as almost infallible.  Thus, when the audience sees Ivan’s pain, they feel much closer to him than to any other character.

            Ivan’s opposite is Brigadier Maclellan.  Maclellan is a representation of the British high command.  While not as many liberties were taken with him, Greengrass does elevate him to a representation of a group, much like Cooper.  Maclellan is the one who calls the shots in terms of the British military movement throughout the film.  He is the one who ensures that the barricades are up, and he is the one who determines what type of force will be used against the rioters.  In this sense, Greengrass goes against a commonly held belief.  It is easy to turn the events of the day into a simple black and white story of the evil British and their quest to stomp out the Irish resistance.  However, throughout the movie, Maclellan tries to minimize the force used.  Only elevating what is used when he feels that it is the only appropriate measure.  He is also used to create some sense of understanding in the audience.  Many of the soldiers who shot civilians on that day acted in a reckless manner.  Maclellan shows that it was not necessarily the goal of the British to cause the amount of fallout that they did.  Instead, the troops decided to interpret their orders in a way to fit their own goals.  This is further emphasized through the focus on his face during many of the shots.  Maclellan is clearly concerned with trying to keep things under control.  Thus, while not excusing the British for what happened, Greengrass creates a sort of gray area.  One where at least some of what happened wasn’t simply the fault of the British high command ordering immense force to be used on innocent people. 

            Another character who is focused on throughout the film is Soldier 27.  This soldier’s story came up through the Saville Inquiry started in 1998 (Blaney, 2007).  This man came forward and told a different story than what had been told by many soldiers during earlier inquiries.  In the movie, and in real life, he is a radioman who is simply caught in the events and pulled along with them.  Throughout the movie, he questions the motivations of his fellow servicemen, challenging them when he says “I don’t see a gunman” and “You shot civies!”  In both cases, this soldier represents a more level headed British soldier who may well have been present during the incident.  Much like Maclellan, many of Soldier 27 scenes involve a close-up of his face.  In this way, the audience is forced to pay attention to him.  By creating this image of both Maclellan and Soldier 27, Greengrass forces the audience to look at something in a way they may not have thought of before, and that forces them to pay attention (Barnett, 2009).  He is also made more real since you can see his clear frustration at the way that his comrades are acting.  By presenting this perspective, Greengrass acknowledges that it wasn’t all of the soldiers on that day who caused the unnecessary bloodshed.  Rather, it was a select few who overstepped their roles and acted the way they felt they should.  In this sense, Soldier 27 acts similarly to Maclellan.  In this way, Greengrass attempts to show that there were people who recognized that there were problems, and that some were confronted. While the end of the movie shows the soldier denying that any sort of foul play occurred, the movie does not describe how he turned over this investigation to the Saville Inquiry.  In this sense, the soldier atones.  The audience is left with a rather dark view of the character, when in fact he eventually did the right thing.

            The final character focused on in the film is Gerry Donaghy.  Donaghy is a boy in the movie who is a part of the march.  Many of his friends are quick to support the I.R.A., but Donaghy is not entirely sold on the idea.  Donaghy is also part of a Romeo and Juliet esque sub-plot, in that he, a Catholic, has a girlfriend who is a Protestant (Mitchell, 2002).  This is also presented inn Ivan, who is implied to be involved with a Catholic girl early in the movie.  Donaghy is similar to Soldier 27 in that he is another character who is simply caught in the middle.  Donaghy’s character had already been arrested for rioting prior to the march, and he was not eager to go back.  However, when he sees the violence begin, he is caught by surprise that the British soldiers would shoot unarmed civilians.  This causes him to decide to fight back.  He represents the many young men who joined the I.R.A. following the events of Bloody Sunday.  The fact that such events transpired caused him to lose faith in the idea that the differences could be settled through peaceful means, and thus he turned to violence.  This is also presented at the end of the movie when several younger men are lined up in a building and are issued guns, presumably by the I.R.A. Ivan even admits that it would be difficult to tell them what they’re doing is wrong considering what happened during the march.  The idea is furthered when the film shows nail bombs being planted on his body.  While it was never actually proven that the bombs were planted, it was highly suspicious, and is further representation of what drove the young men to join the I.R.A.

            In the end, Greengrass uses these four characters to tell the story of the groups involved in the Bloody Sunday incident.  While they may not be completely the same as their real world counterparts, the film uses artistic license to elevate them and give a broader view of the way the events unfolded and how the various groups responded.  It serves to create a better holistic picture of what happened and why it was so significant.  Thus, while the characters themselves aren’t necessarily the real people they are modeled after, they still tell the story of the real people involved in the incident.  In the end, it creates a perspective that shows some gray area involved.


Barnett, B., & Reynolds, A. (2009). Terrorism and the press: an uneasy relationship. New York: Peter Lang.

BBC News (2004, February 3).  Former MP ‘not a liar.’  BBC News UK.  Retrieved from:   

Blaney, Aileen (2007).  Remembering historical trauma in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday.       History and Memory (19), 113-138.

Mitchell, Elvis (2002, October 2).  ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Londonderry.  The New York Times.         Retrieved from: