Jack O'Connell impresses yet again in a tense thriller set at the height of the Troubles
There seems to be no stopping Jack O’Connell right now. The former Skins star is having a stellar year, with a searing performance in prison drama Starred Up behind him and, ahead, a high-profile lead role in the Angelina Jolie directed Unbroken. His latest turn, in Yann Demange’s debut feature ‘71, confirms his soon-to-be-star status. Set in 1971 in Belfast, O'Connell plays Gary Hook, a young British soldier fresh out of basic training who's thrown into a nightmare at the height of the Troubles.
It begins with a simple conceit: on patrol in the Northern Irish capital, on his first night on the ground, Gary gets caught up in a riot and separated from his fellow soldiers. Left to fend for himself, and lost in the rabbit-warren of Belfast's back-streets, his story is one of survival, pure and simple, as he desperately tries to find his way back to the barracks. O’Connell, in these scenes, is marvellous - so breathless and frightened, you can feel virtually every bead of sweat dripping from his brow.
Yet, courtesy of Scottish playwright Gregory Burke’s lean script, ‘71 is far more than just a pulsating thriller; Gary’s fate gets caught up in a complex web of relationships and power plays between the IRA, loyalist paramilitaries and the British army (led by a typically robust Sean Harris). If this luckless soldier is a pawn, he is one without even the knowledge that he’s in the game.
With Blackburn doubling admirably for Belfast, there’s an authenticity here that stretches from the place to the performances and politics. Action mingles with tension, whilst dialogue is deliberately sparse. TV director Demange (Top Boy) keeps it all flowing, ensuring you're hooked to the very final frame.
General release from Fri 10 Oct.