She arrives to beautify,
but slumber now must rest.
Oh my Roisin Dubh
I’ll forever love
the youth you once possessed.
This is one more movie I probably would not have watched had I not seen Netflix was pulling it. While it was put together with the backing of the Irish government and the BBC, it does use some big name actors (e.g. Clive Owen in the male lead). It made the rounds at some of the film festivals, but I’ve seen little marketing of it for theaters.
The story takes place in 1993, but starts with a flashback to 1973 where we see the death of a young boy which drives the survivors of his family to the IRA in vengeance against his killers*. Forward 20 years, and the his brothers (now grown) are leaders of a Provo cell. We see his grown sister entering the London Underground, intent on placing a bomb. However the bomb doesn’t go off, she is captured, and given an offer that she cannot refuse.
The story takes place against a background where peace is tantalizingly close for Northern Ireland. The 1994 ceasefire is, probably, only months away from the narrative and the Good Friday Agreement is only a few years off. Nevertheless, before peace could come, there was a renewed escalation of violence. While I have memories of this time, including violence in Ireland and in London, it seems out of place when placed with other events of that time. Violence in Ireland seems so 1970s. I traveled to London a few years later, and I remember my traveling companion being terrified of IRA violence. For me, even before the Agreement, it didn’t seem real**.
I don’t know the details of the finances of this film. One presumes that with government backing, commercial success isn’t relevant. I was a little nervous that a publicly-funded film would be rather heavy-handed in its morality. In this case, it is not.
Hollywood likes its IRA dramas to be to be action-focused. This movie is far from it. The closest thing to an action seen takes place so fast and confusingly, it is hard to be sure what you just saw. Just like violent episodes are for most people. Would a larger audience appreciate a movie like this if they knew it existed? Or are my tastes just too far outside the mainstream?
The story in the film comes from a book of the same name. It is written by Tom Bradby, who was a news correspondent for Ireland during the time portrayed in the story. I should probably read it.
*Well, maybe. The film is complex and understated. If you pay attention, you may learn things are not how you thought they were.
**How much of this was simply not internalizing that what was actually happening in Belfast, South Armagh, and London was “real” because it was so remote from my daily life versus a fundamental understanding of the probabilities. Events like terrorism or mass killings are so rare that statistically it is nearly impossible for an individual to be involved, despite the fact that it can feel so personal, seeing it in the news. I’d like to think that this was predominantly me having a realistic grasp on the probabilities, but it may well have been that feeling of invincibility that seems a characteristic of youth.
Shortly after I was fiddling with Medieval II: Total War in relation to the William Wallace campaign, I loaded up a generic campaign just to give it a go. There are a couple of mods that I’ve installed and played with over the years. My main interest has been towards those which are intended to improve realism and historicity.
In this case, I loaded up the mod called Chivalry II: The Sicilian Vespers. The “Grand” campaign of that package begins in 1311, which is right about where I was leaving off with the death of Wallace. Now, my point wasn’t specifically to pick up where that last game left off in any way – I just wanted to refresh my memory about what the Chivalry II mod was all about. But because I was in the mindset, and because it did seem to be the “featured” campaign of this package, I decided to play as Scotland in that campaign.
First things first. The campaign is clearly not set up to represent the situation for Scotland in 1311. Scotland and England start the campaign at peace, even though we’re smack dab in the middle of the First Scottish War of Independence. Wallace remains alive and at the head of an army, even though he should have been dead three years. On top of this it is, of course, a Medieval II: Total War campaign, so the emphasis is on building up cities to unlock a tech tree, not the politics and personalities of the time.
As the campaign opened up, I had little to do. I thought I’d be trying to fend off the English, but they seemed uninterested in anything but remaining at peace with Scotland. I waited a few turns, watching the English do nothing much, and then began looking for something else worth doing. I realized that Ireland was a “barbarian” civilization, meaning (in game terms) ripe for the plucking. So I sent off an army to the Emerald Isle to make them part of my future Great Gaelic empire. Little did I know…
My own ignorance of the period meant that I’d never heard of the Bruces’ Invasion of Ireland in 1315. In my defense, it is not something that gets a lot of attention. To get there, let us start back a century-and-a-half before to develop some context.
The title “Lord of Ireland” (Dominus Hiberniae) was created in 1177 for Prince John (yes, the Robin Hood guy) by King Henry II. Henry became involved in Irish affairs as a reaction to old rivalries.
From 1166, Diarmaid Mac Murchadha, king of Leinster, was fighting to regain the title to the throne he inherited after his brother’s death. Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchobhair, king of Connacht and High King of Ireland feared the power of Leinster and so encouraged his ally, king Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc of Bréifne to displace Mac Murchadha. In turn, Mac Murchadha sought English assistance in regaining his throne and struck an arrangement with Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, in which de Clare would would marry Mac Murchadha’s daughter Aoife in exchange for military assistance. Said marriage put de Clare in line for succession to a recaptured Leinster.
De Clare’s invasion of Ireland met with success and when Mac Murchadha died in May of 1171, de Clare claimed the throne of Leinster. This put him at odds with Mac Merchadha’s son as well as Irish succession law, sparking further Irish-Norman warfare. At this point, Henry II sent an army to Ireland. De Clare had been a supporter of King Stephen in opposition to Henry’s mother’s claim to the English throne and so Henry still viewed him with mistrust, despite decades of water under the bridge. Henry was particularly concerned with de Clare consolidating power in Ireland. The English king took control of the lands de Clare had seized, Dublin, Wexford and Waterford, in exchange for concessions in France. In 1175, an agreement was signed formally granting Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (son of Toirdhealbhach) dominion over Ireland except for Leinster, Dublin, and Waterford, which would be controlled by England, in exchange for tribute and fealty from the High King of Ireland to the throne of England.
It was this piece – Leinster, Dublin, and Waterford – that was transferred to Prince John in 1177. The Gaelic lords under English control were never entirely happy about the arrangement and, despite fairly successful administration from the standpoint of the English overlords, conflict remained a possibility.
In 1315, the Bruces came up with what they felt would be a win-win. The Scots would come to the rescue of their Irish brethren and help them to dislodge the English from the Emerald Island. The English, in turn, would have to divert their attention away from Scotland and over to Ireland, thus giving Scotland an edge in their fight with the English. Finally, Edward Bruce, the brother of King Robert, was proposed to be the new High King of Ireland.
In the end, it turned out not so well for Edward, but passably for Robert. The invasion of Ireland corresponded with the Great Famine of 1315-1317, causing poverty, starvation, and disease to spread throughout Europe. The farms of Ireland were unable to support the local population, much less an army from across the sea. So despite initial military success in 1315, the army was worn down by disease and attrition in the following years. In 1318, Edward’s army was defeated and Edward himself killed at the Battle of Faughart. Strategically, the cause of Scotland seems to have been served. Pressure was taken off of Scotland and redirected toward Ireland for the duration of the campaign, and Ireland ceased to be a base for military operations against the Scots.
A series of user-made scenarios covers the most significant battles from the Bruce campaign for Scotland in Field of Glory. The package starts at the end of May with the first battle, immediately upon landing at Larne, which took place just north of Belfast. Next is an ambush scenario, taking place between Newry and Dundalk, as the Bruce armies advanced southward from the vicinity of Belfast. Historically, this ambush failed and the Scottish armies continued on. In early September, a battle at Connor resulted in another Scottish victory and the capture of Richard de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster. In early November, Bruce again met an Irish army in battle, this time at Kells, and won another victory. The Scottish army then sacked and burned Kells, as well as an number of other towns, as they marched through the Irish countryside.
Such destruction did not endear them to the Irish people, making them less inclined to see the Scots as liberators from the English. While Scotland was military successful in open battle and captured stronghold after stronghold (razing those belonging to those that did not support Bruce for High King), they were unable to hold the territory after they moved on.
The next battle modeled took place in late January of 1316. It was again a Scottish victory and was again followed by plundering of the local area. The scant accounts of this battle that exist suggest this may have been a close affair. It is suggested that the Irish may have had a significant numbers advantage in this case, but internal divisions allowed Bruce the victory, albeit with heavy losses. In game, the scenario models this as an advantage of 1,200 men (in armies of in the 8,000 ballpark). But in game, this was not the toughest scenario. The Battle of Connor (see the previous screenshot) was the only one that came right down to the wire for me. I did not monitor losses closely. In the context of the records of the time, losses likely meant the deaths of important nobles, as opposed to foot-soldiers killed in battle.
Edward’s final battle, at Faughart, wraps up the scenarios in this series. In this battle Edward met a numerically superior force and was defeated by it, losing his own life and bringing to an end the dream of a Bruce as High King of Ireland. Ultimately Robert’s true views on Irish independence became clear when, after King Edward II’s death, he offered to Queen Isabella that, in exchange for acknowledging Scottish independence, Scotland would never aid Ireland in any rebellion against English rule.
Focusing on the scenarios themselves, this is a nice group depicting a the major fights within a campaign. It provides a context and continuity that can be hard to come by in Field of Glory, consisting as it does of only stand-alone scenarios. While working my way through them all, I discovered another problem with Field of Glory (Unity). If you go back to the original FoG screenshot (the very brown one, and the first of the three above), you see that when browsing the scenarios, there is a description by the scenario author that is displayed. When these scenarios are converted to FoG(U), alas, the scenario description does not convert. In a set like this, this leaves the player blind as to important information like the date of the battle (anything more specific than the year) and setup information. Of course you could always load the battle selection screen in the old version to decide which one to play and then load it again in the newer version to actually play it. But that provides a tough reminder of how the latest version is broken.
In this case, I did not play the two versions of the software side-by-side. I am assuming that FoG(U) is going to give me the better game. It is suitably aggressive in play, and I think that such aggressiveness is important for an AI player, so as to make the best of these scenarios.
I did a little reading of the forums surrounding the playing of these games and noticed some commentary about the different Field of Glory versions. From the looks of the forum, it looks like FoG(U) has hit a dead end. Experienced players are suggesting that new users interested in Field of Glory I purchase the new version only as a means to get access to the older Field of Glory – skip over the Unity upgrade entirely. With much of this, it may be as much related to multiplayer use of the software as anything else. While I understand that bringing Field of Glory II into the middle ages may be a better future than trying to fix FoG(U), it is a shame if this software path were to end in failure.
Before watching it, I a saw a piece of someone’s review of the movie, where they called it a “feel-good film.” That’s a phrase that’s hard to get out of your head once it gets in there.
Indeed, Sing Street is a feel-good film. It is a good feel-good film that is as good as some and better than most. I also, while watching it, couldn’t help comparing it with We Are The Best, which I watched a couple of years ago. They both have the same subject; teens in (for me) a foreign country who decide, under difficult circumstances, to form a band. They both take place at the same time (1982 for We Are the Best, 1985 for Sing Street, although the kids are probably the same age). But beyond that, the movies are very different.
Unlike We Are the Best, which seemed to try for an accurate portrayal of 1982 Sweden, Sing Street is more of an “80s themed” movie. It uses the cars, the music, and the recession of that time to set the stage, but it’s not exactly a realistic “period drama.” It also isn’t an accurate representation of the high school rock band experience. The Sing Street band goes from non-existent to writing and recording radio-quality pop tunes in a matter of days. While it works for this movie, it isn’t reality.
I was actually shocked to realize, at the end credits*, that the actors really did do their own music. I was sure, watching, that the music was some professional (and famous – I thought I recognized a voice at one point) singer being dubbed in. In fact, I had started to wonder if they used different singers for different styles of music. I am very impressed to see that Irish actor/musician Ferdia Walsh-Peelo actually sang the songs (although he had professional writers to create them).
So if the movie isn’t We Are the Best goes to Ireland, then what is it?
Well, its a feel-good film. The story is about a young man who suddenly finds his family on hard times and moves to a new, rougher school. He meets a beautiful girl and, in order to get her number, tells her he is in a band and they need her to film a video for one of their songs. Having said this, he now needs to form a band, write some songs, and come up with some video concepts.
The movie is a story that’s been told many times, but doesn’t really grow old. A young person, growing up in difficult circumstances, has to overcome those circumstances and find his own way. It is hard to define yourself, for yourself, but not doing so means you’ll forever be held back by those circumstances that you did not create.
The main character’s older brother, Brendan, explains the importance of a “vocation.” By this he means the meaning and purpose of a life (explicitly contrasting it with a job that does not have meaning). Driving a cab can be a vocation, says he (who never leaves his parents’ house) as can music or art. Finding your way and not being defined by your problems is how you become the person that you should be.
As is so often the case, I think the movie is really about the twenty-teens, and not the eighties. The music sounds way too modern. The bullying theme, emphasizing that bad kids are just starving for some positive attention, would not have been treated that way in an 80s movie to be sure. With its meta-references (the songs, speaking about the characters life, are reflected in the film itself), the film is very much a twenty-teens creature. Let me say, too, that the singing often reminded me more of Green Day than Duran Duran.
Also, don’t step in the plot-holes. As I said, the speed with which the band was created is a bit silly. One also might wonder how a kid who can’t afford a pair of shoes can suddenly be in possession of several Boy George outfits. I also had misgivings about the lead female character, Raphina. She’s a beautiful actress and played the part very well, but I’ve met my own “I’m going to be a model.” Let’s just say I predict that relationship is going to turn out very badly in the end.
Other elements of this movie speak to me, particularly. I was of an age, and interested in music, during this time. I had grown up listening to what we know would call “classic rock” and discovered, sometime in the mid-eighties, what we would come to call “alternative rock.” Reading reviews on Netflix, I think many fans of the movie are of a similar age and circumstance. My Raphina didn’t quite look as good as Lucy Boynton does, but life rarely lives up to the fantasy. There was also one scene, where my initial reaction was utter disbelief. At some point our main character (Conor, by the way) is confronted again by “the” bully. He defuses the situation with some existential musings about who exists in whose reality and whether existence without purpose is true existence. “Yeah, that would work,” thought I, sarcastically.
Except that it did. Somewhere around middle school, I figured out how to defuse violent bullying simply by speaking – using a vocabulary far over the heads of my tormentors. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. When they realized they couldn’t understand what I was saying (but, importantly, realized I was in fact making sense using the King’s English), their urge to violent aggression ebbed away.
The movie, and I don’t think one like this can be plot-spoiled, turns out very well in the end. The boy gets the girl, and they head off into the sunrise**, perhaps to fame and fortune. They make friends with the bully and give him a purpose. All is well, and we heard some good songs on the journey. The movie is also fun it a lot of little ways. Little bits, from details of costumes to a large number of rabbits, weren’t really part of the story itself, but made me laugh out loud as I watched.
How could anyone not love this movie.
I really like this song. It is not an 80s song.
*Another Netflix complaint I’d like to register. Like network TV, Netflix has now decided that rather than watch the credits of a movie, viewers would rather see some previews for something they might like to watch next. You can’t even enjoy the end-credit music while watching indecipherable pixels float by, because they also cut the credit sequence short when the preview is done. I don’t know why, but I’ve always enjoyed sitting through the credits when I rent a DVD or, especially, when I go to the theater. So, in this case, as I always do with Netflix streaming, I had to look up the credits on-line after the movie was over.
**The filmmaker said this scene was deliberately meant to be unbelievable – something out of a music video. He is not suggesting that Conor and Raphina will live happily ever after, or perhaps not even that they went to London in a fishing boat. He said he was surprised that the audience took it so literally.