Political Film Society - Titanic Town

PFS Film Review
Titanic Town


Titanic TownThe Titanic was built and launched in Belfast, only later to run into an iceberg. The paradigm of a sinking ship with many lost lives due to irresponsible behavior by those at the helm is perhaps one way of understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland over the last few centuries. In 1972, when violence escalated in Belfast, one woman came forth up to try to stop the killing. That woman, according to the film Titanic Town, is Bernie McPhilimy (played by Julie Walters). Directed by Roger Mitchell, the story is based on the autobiographical novel Titanic Town (1998) by Mary Costello, whose mother is the inspiration for the fictional housewife Bernie. When the movie begins, the McPhilimy family moves into a townhouse in well-manicured Andersontown, West Belfast, only to find itself in a war zone. British troops attempt to arrest members of the Irish Republican Army and its sympathizers, with inevitable retaliation, and the violence goes on. Bernie, a Catholic working class mother of four, watches while old men are apprehended and innocent bystanders are shot, and then decides that she must do what she can to have the IRA reschedule its shooting during curfew hours so that ordinary people, especially her four children, can go about their lives in peace. Although she tries to make her point at a meeting organized by Protestant women, the Protestants have a different agenda, and pro-IRA mother Patsy French (played by Jaz Pollock) and her supporters disrupt the meeting. However, Bernie’s views catch the attention of the British media, which is eager to divide the Catholic community so as to erode support for the IRA, and she naïvely plays into their hands. Nevertheless, Bernie wants Belfast’s children to grow up in peace, so she forms an organization, Women for Peace, and collects 25,000 signatures on a petition to ask both sides to stop the violence after lamenting that the day had not yet arrived when the IRA would mourn the death of a British soldier, and British authorities would mourn the death of Irish Catholic civilians. The IRA and British authorities then communicate with each other through her. In the process, however, she infuriates Catholic supporters of the IRA, who harass her and her family, so her crusade endangers the very family that she originally sought to protect. When the film ends, she resigns from Women for Peace and moves out of West Belfast, but her family has learned to support her courage and wisdom. If a film could serve to nominate a fictional character for a Nobel Peace Prize, then Bernie McPhilimy would certainly be packing her bags today for a trip to Oslo. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated the film Titanic Town for an award as an exposé of the actual conditions in the nasty civil war and as an eloquent plea to resolve disputes peacefully. MH

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Titanic Town
by Mary Costello

A coming-of-age novel set against the sectarian conflict of Belfast, Northern Ireland.