Posted on October 10, 2019
In 1991, four men sat down in Belfast to write a book of the dead. They resolved to put on record the stories of what happened to every man, woman and child killed during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Their testament to suffering would take eight years of painstaking research. They detailed 3,700 lives shattered. Their book was Lost Lives.
Now, two film makers and a host of Irish actors have followed in those writers’ footsteps. Taking Lost Lives as their inspiration, they have created a requiem for the Troubles dead. Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Dunbar and Bronagh Waugh are among a long list of acting talent from Northern Ireland who have given their voices to the film.
The book was written by veteran NI journalist David McKittrick, BBC journalists Chris Thornton and the late Seamus Kelters, and political commentator Brian Feeney. At a later stage, David McVea joined in. First published in 1999, it was an act of remembrance, lest a single life be forgotten. It is considered the go-to reference book and an authority on the Troubles.
In the Irish Times in 2006, journalist Susan McKay wrote: “A Tyrone man bought five copies. Five members of his family, all in the security forces, had been killed. A Donegal man found out from the book that it was the UVF, and not the IRA, that had killed his brother – as his family had supposed for 30 years. It has been read out in churches, Protestant and Catholic. A woman wept so much over the book in a shop she left mascara stains on the page at which she’d opened it.”
The new film, which has its premiere in London later on Thursday, tells individual stories from the book, using archive footage, music and the book’s words spoken by actors to bring them to life.
Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt of DoubleBand film say theirs is not a documentary, but rather a “creative response” to the book. They found their inspiration between the pages of the stout volume where each victim’s name and age are listed along with the date and the details of their death.
Their film melds strikingly beautiful images with the crackle of gunfire and the ugly thud of bombs. “It is a reminder that war is Hell,” said Lavery. “For us, it is a cinematic event that addresses the past, but looks to the future.”