The search for truth: Paul Laverty on Route Irish
The screenwriter discusss his latest Ken Loach-directed project
Waterboarding. A barbaric act of intolerable cruelty that should have stayed in the middle ages or a justifiable military tool in extricating information from the sworn enemy? Given what we now know of western forces’ sometimes inhumane tactics in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and various locations across the globe, surely no one of sane mind could sit down and make a positive case for the state practice of near-drowning. A work of fiction it may be, but the waterboarding scene near the end of Route Irish is virtually unwatchable.
Fergus (Mark Womack), a Scouse ex-SAS man is trying to discover the truth behind the mysterious death of his childhood friend Frankie (comedian John Bishop in his acting debut) while on duty in Baghdad. Evidence is mounting that what Frankie knows about the slaughter of an innocent family by members of a private security contractor (polite code here for mercenaries) has led to his murder. The increasingly desperate Fergus straps his prime suspect to a plank, interrogates him and intermittently pours liquid into his lungs. Naturally enough, the victim blurts out the story that Fergus want to hear, but is it the truth or a means to stop the agony?
Paul Laverty is the Calcutta-born Scottish screenwriter and ex-human rights lawyer who has once again collaborated with Ken Loach on a movie that will undoubtedly upset the establishment forces who would rather this sort of thing was brushed right under the carpet. From his Spain base, Laverty is on something of a high after another of his scripts, for Even the Rain, has just helped that film to win an audience award at the Berlin International Film Festival. A jovial and generous soul by nature, Laverty is nonetheless ceaseless in his condemnation of those he simply views as arrogant warlords.
‘Torture is a criminal offence and is incorporated into the body of United States law by international treaties. At the very least there should be an investigation into the criminal responsibility of Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and, of course, Bush. It’s remarkable how the whole political culture was polluted by what these people set in motion. Dick Cheney was asked on a radio programme, “What’s wrong with a little dunk in the water?” It’s little wonder that they’re viewed as such hypocrites around the world.’
Route Irish is the tenth feature-length collaboration between Loach and Laverty, a partnership which began in 1996 with Carla’s Song, and has subsequently given us Ae Fond Kiss, The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Looking for Eric. ‘It’s a very organic relationship now,’ admits Laverty. ‘With Route Irish, the massive human tragedy and abuse of power was something that we both felt very deeply that we should engage with. But a good issue doesn’t simply make for a good film; you have to find a very personal way into it and have an interesting puzzle to solve that somehow enlightens the broader picture.’
The puzzle at the centre of the film initially lies in the belief of Fergus, who cannot buy the official line that Frankie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘He was born lucky’ is Fergus’ rather flimsy rationale for pursuing the truth, but his gut instincts prove to be correct as he slowly unravels a grand conspiracy. ‘When you hear Fergus saying that in the beginning, you think he’s just unhinged,’ says Laverty. ‘And he is in the process of falling apart from what he’s lived through. But he’s also a highly trained man and he knows the situation out there very well and just smells something wrong with it.’
Laverty once quoted a line from Woody Guthrie that ‘a human being is a hoping machine’, and in the face of the kinds of misery and cruelty he encounters during the research for his scripts, has also taken strength from the words of the US historian Howard Zinn whom he became friends with just before his death last year. ‘He said that you think things are not going to change but history surprises you and that we can become part of the surprising. We’re not just watching from a distance. We can participate and take sides.’
Route Irish, selected release, Friday 18 March.