Emotionally charged tale of Belfast in 1971

A scene from 71. Photo: PA Photo/Studio Canal
A scene from 71. Photo: PA Photo/Studio Canal

A teenage soldier is separated from his platoon in the cauldron of violence that is 1971 Belfast in Yann Demange’s nail-biting survival thriller.

Punctuated by kinetic action sequences that relentlessly tighten the knot of tension in our stomachs, ’71 is a dazzling debut from the TV director, who made the acclaimed Channel 4 series Top Boy.

Demange puts leading man Jack O’Connell through the physical wringer as he explores the sectarian divide through the eyes of a wet-behind-the-ears recruit, who is marked for death by the provisional IRA and supposed allies.

’71 masterfully sustains tension without getting bogged down in the thorny politics of the era.

Nerves are shredded to tatters in the opening half hour and screenwriter Gregory Burke wrings every drop of suspense from his neat set-up.

O’Connell follows up his bruising portrayal of a young offender in Starred Up with another emotionally charged performance. Lines between allies and adversaries are repeatedly blurred, stacking the odds heavily against Gary as he ducks for cover, and we hunker down with him, brows beaded with sweat and knuckles white with fear.