Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, the highly acclaimed ‘mockumentary’ of the massacre in Derry on January 30, 1972 is recognized not only for its unique filming style but also for its unique stance on the British side of the conflict. In an attempt to avoid being subjective, the film goes beyond the typical portrayal of the British as heartless murderers and gives them a voice during this conflict. Although the film is not seen as a “fair” portrayal by all, it stands as an exceptional view on the massacre that allows the viewers to be personally affected by the film.

The perspective of the movie does try to be objective, but given the situation, portraying each party in an equal light proves to be difficult. When the citizens of Derry experienced such a profound loss within one day, the natural tone of the film favors the citizens of Derry and the carnage that was wrought on their town. In order to balance the fair portrayal of the victims of Bloody Sunday and the British, the film shows the perspectives of the young protestors, the more mature organizers of the protest, the General in charge of the troops in Derry, and the Paras. “the voices of ordinary eyewitnesses are rarely heard, and when used, they are primarily included to add drama and immediacy, rather than hard information or context” (Moeller 182). Not only does the film have a reasonably impartial view of the British military, but despite the difficulty of portraying the British in a positive light, there are also moments of empathy offered to them by showing their struggle with the increasingly volatile situation.

By exploring the motives behind the British fighting the protestors, the struggle of the British is also humanized. Although 13 citizens were killed in one day, the troops mentioned that during their occupation 53 British soldiers were killed. The Paras also express their disgust with the continuing hostile situation that has subjected them to being shot at and spat on. The conflicting commands as well as the Paras inexperience with controlling crowds also contributed to the chaos of the day.  Their surroundings in no way justify the acts that were committed on that day, but their frustrations and the confusion they were facing can be understood better. After the massacre has occurred, Major General Ford and Chief Supt. Lagan express remorse and helplessness that the situation had become so catastrophic and their attempts to peaceably end the protest has ended in failure. Soldier 027, a British soldier that is portrayed as the conscience of the British troops, is one of the more empathetic characters of the film. Throughout the film, he is clearly uncomfortable with the task at hand “the camera cuts to close-ups that privilege Private 027’s face and frame his troubled expression, which contrasts strongly against those of other aggressive-looking Paras” (Blaney 124). When he expresses his concern against becoming violent against a peaceful protest, he is met with confrontation from his fellow Paras that accuse him of either being with them or against them His actions are inexcusable as well, but the pressure that he is facing from his superiors and comrades is relatable. In general, the young British soldiers and the young hooligans seem to have the same boisterous as well as confused, spirit. In an interesting comparison, the struggles of Gerry Donaghy and Soldier 027 are paralleled as victims of their surroundings. Gerry is pressured by his friends to continue rioting (even though he risks being sent back to jail) and the soldier is pressured by his comrades to become violent against the protestors (even though he knows the protest is meant to stay peaceful and he is essentially shooting at innocents). Their similar struggle allows both groups to be sympathized because they must both deal with situations that deserve understanding.

Also lowering the bias of the film is avoiding placing blame with any one group.

“Greengrass exposes the irrationality of both sides. (It is noteworthy that he is British – and, because of his foregrounding of human rights, has been accused of betraying the British interest). He avoids sensationalist sloganeering in favour of an in-depth observation of the human tragedy in Derry” (Kao 1). The film puts the fault of the massacre with the protestors as well as the British soldiers. “Images help make issues seem real, but that reality is compromised when media organizations use generic images in ways that have furthered stereotypes” (Barnett 94). Both groups can be charged with recklessness, and Ivan Cooper deplores the actions of both sides. Once the protest is supposedly finished, his only regret is that the younger protestors are attempting to cause trouble with the British, undermining the intent of the peaceful protest. After the massacre, he points out the ultimate failure of British troops, since it ultimately gave the younger generation a reason to join the IRA and continue the violent fight against the British. But ultimately, the film does not focus on who is at fault for the massacre, but that innocent lives were taken. It focuses on all the victims, the Irish that were victims of senseless killings and the British that were victims of their situation.

Emphasizing the desperation of the situation is the documentary style in which the film was shot. Visually, the movie has the feel of period news report. Clearly, the movie is shot with a handheld camera, with the constant shakiness creating a realistic recreation of the confusion that was occurring during the riot. The graininess of the film also makes the movie period appropriate to the 1970’s. “The camera is seldom located in a privileged position in this film; it, too, is trying to see-behind backs, through gaps in crowds, running from danger with its subjects, making us an accomplice to history” (Syle 45). The camera darts around as if it were a person glancing around at the scenes, giving the viewer the feeling that they are actually there. The constant fade to black portrayal also allows a realistic and personal portrayal of the events. It makes the film seem to be an account of a witness, the fade to black scenes mimic the fragmentary nature of memory.

Another aspect that gives the film a realistic feel is the lack of overdramatizing the situation. Rather than having the riot punctuated by a dramatic score, the true intensity and helplessness of the situation is weaved with the desperate screams of the helpless citizens of Derry. When one of the “protagonists” Gerry is finally gunned down, it happens in an instant, his death is as brief as every other murdered civilian. This stark style is more effective at portraying the event than the typical overly sensationalized action movie. As a whole, the film focuses on “the image, which is rich with emotion-laden nonverbal information” (Barnett 80). Using mostly relatively unknown actors (or for the most part, actual soldiers and non-actors) gives the film a more credibility by not distracting the viewers with a high profile name. Another advantage of not using mainly professional actors is the raw emotion that they were able to convey. “The considerable advantages commanded by actual soldiers, compared to professional actors, are evident in the intense credibility of the scenes where they feature, aided, unquestionably, by their ability to model the simulated sequences showing army maneuvers from previous professional experiences” (Blaney 128-9).

Despite the fact that films are mainly used to provide entertainment to the public, Bloody Sunday breaks away from this convention by exploring the many sides of the conflict and providing a realistic portrayal of the events. With its unconventional filming techniques and unique stance on the massacre, the film is a profound commentary on the tragedy of human behavior.

Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, and Amy Reynolds. Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.


Blaney, Aileen. “Remembering Historical Trauma in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody SundayHistory

and Memory. 19.2: 113-38. Print.

Kao, Wei H. “Irish Pride and Disgrace in Recent films: Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass.”

97.387. Print

Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.

Slye, Rick. “Bloody Sunday (Film).” Canadian Dimension. 38.3: 45. Print.