‘Bloody Sunday’: fifty years on …


On January 30th 1972 British paratroopers show dead 13 civilians in Derry in occupied Ireland; they also wounded 13 civilians, one of who subsequently died. There followed the Widgery Report, attempting to exonerate the army: years later the forensic and more balanced Saville Inquiry: leading to a public apology by a British Prime Minister in Parliament. Yet even now no single person has been held responsible in a Court of Law: not a paratrooper: not a military officer: not a state security operative: and not a politician with overall responsibility. There are though representations of the massacre on film.

Bloody Sunday, made for British and Irish Television in 2002.

Produced by Bórd Scannán nah Éireann / Granada Television / Hell’s Kitchen FilmsWritten and directed by Paul Greengrass; The film was inspired by Don Mullan’s Eyewitness Bloody Sunday (Wolfhound Press, 1997) shot on 16mm and in colour with a blown-up version on 35mm for cinema screenings. It runs 107 minutes in standard widescreen. Originally screened by Granada Television and filmed mainly in Ballymun, Dublin.

The film displays the characteristics now associated with Greengrass’s work, including many close-ups and fast, sharp editing. Key characters are played by professionals, including James Nesbit as Ivan Cooper and Tim Piggott-Smith as Major General Ford. The film also focuses on other characters who represent both the military and the Derry citizens involved in what was a peaceful Civil Rights March. The plot focuses on the events of the day, with some information in the dialogue about the preceding conflict. This is a protest drama, filmed in a quasi-documentary style. But the underlying conflicts regarding occupation, internment and resistance are assumed rather than explained. It is a powerful presentation relying more on emotion that analysis. The soundtrack contains only one piece of music, a version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 which plays over the closing credits.


Sunday made for Independent Television in 2002; Produced by Box TV Gaslight Productions Ltd. Sunday Productions. Written by Jimmy McGovern, directed by Charles McDougal. Filmed in 16mm in black and white and colour with a ratio of 1.78:1. Broadcast on Channel 4, subsequently released on DVD; mainly filmed in Derry.

This likewise uses a quasi-documentary style with professional actors but avoids using key leading characters and offers a focus on the ordinary Derry citizens represented by three families involved. It also provides background to the events of the day, like the attack by Paratroopers on a peaceful demonstration on a beach near Derry a week before the Sunday of the massacre; and later events like the Widgery Inquiry.. It also uses a more complex narrative with techniques that comment on the actions.

Bloody Sunday was transmitted a week before this latter title and had already premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. McGovern criticised the other film for concentrating on the leadership of the march rather than the ordinary citizens involved. Equally, or more importantly, the latter title has a much stronger political treatment of the events; the contrast is worth exploring.

Note, details of the production and cast can be found on IMDb for both films. You Tube has a version of Bloody Sunday streaming: along with archive film of the day: a Channel 4 programme: a video programme on the earlier ‘Bloody Sunday’, November 21st 1920 when British soldiers and irregulars killed 12 people during an attack at a Gaelic Football event: and other video and audio material.

The events at Croke Park feature in the 1996 biopic, from Warner Bros. Michael Collins, available on Prime Video and DVD.

BBC Sounds has available Radio 4’s ‘Bloody Sunday: 50 Years on’. The programme includes some of the background to the events including the killing in Ballymurphy in August 1971 of nine civilians by the British Paratroop regiment. There is also ‘Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry’, presented by the Tricycle Theatre in 2005: there was a radio adaptation by the BBC, but not to be found on Sounds.Theatrical representations will now include a new play, The White Handkerchief. Book and Lyrics by Liam Campbell. Music by Brian O’Doherty. Directed by Kieran Griffiths. Produced by the Derry Playhouse. This show will also be broadcast online on Sunday January 30th, 2022.

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