Titanic Town

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What Titanic Town captures so well — and what’s missing in many films about the “troubles” in Northern Ireland — is the absurdity of trying to conduct a seminormal life during an occupation. In 1972, the McPhelimy family moves into the Andersonstown housing estates of predominantly Catholic West Belfast hoping for a respite from the pitched battle between the IRA and the British army. Instead, they’ve wandered into a war zone.

Anne Devlin’s screenplay, based on Mary Costello’s autobiographical novel (both women grew up in Andersonstown), is an uncommon coming-of-age tale. Bright, promising, 16-year-old Annie (Nuala O’Neill), the eldest of four children, is the pride and joy of her feisty mother, Bernie (Julie Walters), who oversees the activities of the entire McPhelimy clan, including her ulcer-ridden, unemployed husband, Aidan (Ciaran Hinds).

Bernie believes in “dignified resistance,” and when soldiers are tearing apart her modest home in a routine raid, she’s fussing over the state of her kids’ bedrooms. Annie, too, tries to be oblivious, pursuing her studies with the ferocity of someone who senses an escape route. Both women, in very different but interconnected ways, are about to come into their own.

The shockingly commonplace death of Bernie’s close friend, and her natural inclination to try and bring some order to their tumultuous lives, turns this opinionated homemaker into an outspoken peace activist. Meanwhile, Annie meets Dino (Ciaran McMenamin), a medical student who introduces her to the adult world. While both women head into uncharted territory with good intentions, they encounter enough faith-shattering betrayals to deter less hardy souls.

Director Roger Michell (Persuasion, Notting Hill) has a remarkably sure hand when it comes to the odd juxtaposition of the personal and the political. In Titanic Town (the ill-fated ship was built in Belfast), Michell subtly shows how one inevitably permeates the other while astutely balancing the experiences of Bernie and Annie.

“Just because I was naive doesn’t mean I was wrong,” Bernie says, and her defiance serves as a reminder that just because nothing can apparently be done is no excuse to do nothing.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Star Gratiot at 15 Mile (35705 Gratiot, Clinton Township), as part of the Shooting Gallery independent film series. Call 810-791-3420.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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