What was the reaction to the film in the North? Was the reaction different there to the rest of the UK?
Well, certainly there was a lot of concern – firstly there was concern that it might be inflammatory, and a decision was made not to put it out at the start of term, and I think for good reason, the start of term being a sensitive time.
I read reports on the Internet, suggesting that the postponement had to do with politics and the assembly elections…
No, but I'll tell you what happened. For arcane reasons, there's a three or four second scene just after the blast bomb in the film where a local politician (Billy Hutchinson) featured in a news clip that I used, and with the line “today I'm ashamed to be a loyalist” – an important line, and unfortunately because of the broadcasting laws in the North, within a certain time frame, I think it's four weeks, before an election, no politician is allowed air time, so following the letter of the law I had to take that out. But certainly there was nothing sinister about it.
So no conspiracy theory! Do you ever get tired as a film maker, having to worry about these sensibilities?
I've to say, I really enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland. Cliché though it sounds, I find the people incredibly open and warm there, and real in a sense. I do like the sense of identity within both communities – I'm a Jewish boy who grew up in Manchester, and I can relate to it.
Maybe too strong a sense of identity in some senses?
(laughs) well, yes – maybe too strong. I mean it's very depressing obviously, the heat of the conflict. But there's tremendous writing in the communities, and a tremendous tradition of story-telling and also tremendous actors, which is exciting.
Bronagh Gallagher, who herself is from a Catholic background, played the Protestant mother, in a fantastic performance. What kind of reaction did that get?
Well, she was villified by the local Derry press – headlines like “Bronagh – Traitor” – and I think it was very brave of her to pursue the part – very brave. It was tough locally on her and her family. Zara, perhaps to a lesser extent, from a Protestant background playing the Catholic mum.
One of the things that was moving in the film was that both mothers come to see that they've played a part in the events, and both have a very real sense of remorse. While it's great drama, did you actually find that sense of remorse expressed when you were doing your research?
Hints of it, I think. As you know yourself, there's tremendous shame about this episode, in the whole of Ireland. I think that's why a documentary on the events would fail. When people go public about these things, even in private, there's a real closing of ranks, so all I could really say are hints. I think what you can say immaginatively though is that once people are not demonised, then the only other choice is that they're human, and if they're human there must be a way to understand why they've done what they've done.
Were you scared taking the film on – after seeing the events on the TV?Did you not wonder – “How am I going to humanise these people?”
I think Terry, Robert, and I, and Jonathan the producer – yes, we had a lot of anxiety about it. It's hard – you get close to it, and you wonder how am I going to make it, how am I going to get it to work. It's two issues. First you have to get the script as good as you possibly can. We were re-writing the script constantly, all the way through shooting, to get it as good as we possibly could. Then there's the shooting, and I just wanted to deliver the essence of the scenes as well as I could. By the time you get to the editing suite, it's too late – not that the editing process isn't important – it's a crucial process, but you can only go so far with it. If you haven't got it on film – that's it.
The filming was done in Liverpool?
Yes –well, there was no way we could have done the filming in Belfast – that would have been pretty irresponsible, and impossible in terms of practicalities. We stupidly enough chose Liverpool, where there's also a sectarian divide! But there were production reasons as well: we could make parts of Liverpool look like Belfast.
Did it surprise you to find sectarian divides in Britain?
Yeah – it's really hidden. It's not talked about – it can only be e
xpressed in football terms.
Did the situation in the North surprise you, as an English film-maker?
You know, the thing is, on the mainland, as people like to call it, across the water, England, whatever you want to call it, there is a real blindness to Ireland. There's a kind of fatigue, blindness and ignorance all wrapped up together. People can barely read about it – I'm generalising here – I'll speak for myself, but I don't think I'm far from the norm in this respect. This has been written about for so long, and talked about for so long, and been covered in the media for so long that it's very hard to be open to it, and to be open to the story. That was one of the things we knew we were battling against when we made the film. “Oh no, another film about the Troubles” is the kind of reaction you expect.
There was one telling line in the film, where one of the fathers on the Catholic side said words to the effect that if this was taking place in England, a bunch of skinheads terrorising children, it just wouldn't be permitted to take place – that line was the only hint that this society has a different set of rules and circumstances.
Well, I know the (as was) RUC has a long dark, troubled involvement in what's gone on in Northern Ireland, and of course there's been the Patton commission as an attempt to try to make the Police service more representative of both communities. But also, they stumbled into the whole thing. I'm more of the cock up school of understanding events in History, rather than the conspiracy school – and I think they just really cocked it up. Then again, they felt they had to entrench their position. Over the summer, Flanagan realised – this is a road, and this is a school and people have got to be able to walk there. Then, on the first day, they ran out of plastic sheeting – it's not something that we went into. There was what was called a tunnel, for reasons I don't know, but there were two rows of plastic sheeting with Protestant demonstrators on either side outside the sheeting, and the parents and kids were funneled through – and they hadn't ordered enough of them, and they fell short three hundred yards from the school – and it's a free for all at this point!