Here is a hypnotic, troubling study of a key agent in the Troubles. Maurice Sweeney's picture, constructed around a lengthy interview between veteran journalist Ed Moloney and the late IRA volunteer Dolours Price, confirms the subject as a fiercely articulate woman with a chilling certainty of purpose.
I, Dolours does more. In charting Price's journey from civil rights activist to convicted bomber to peace process sceptic, it offers an efficient history of the entire conflict.
Price was actually on the 1969 People’s Democracy march that notoriously ended at Burntollet Bridge with loyalists attacking while security forces refused to intervene. Like many others in the movement, she sees that as the turning point. “I’m never going to convince these people,” she remembers thinking.
Decades later, she speaks sourly – employing sarcasm as only a Belfast woman can – of Gerry Adams’s time in the IRA and Sinn Féin’s subsequent shift towards compromise. Even when admitting to outrages, she peppers her regrets with redoubled anger.
Yes, the “disappearing” of alleged informers to lonely deaths on beaches in Co Louth was a “war crime”, but her alternative sounds scarcely more humane. “The bodies should have been thrown out on the street to put the fear of God into anyone who’d choose that way of life,” she says. One thinks grimly of those Isis-occupied towns with murdered bodies hanging from lampposts.
At such points it is safe to suspect that a minority of viewers will be on Price’s side. But she is never less than a compelling presence.
This is among the most impressive interviews ever immortalised in a feature documentary. The story of her childhood nursing an aunt wounded handling explosives – blind and without hands – is chilling enough to demand attention. A sentimental part of the brain wonders what this icily intelligent woman could have achieved in different circumstances.
It's a shame that the surrounding package repeats so many common errors of the contemporary documentary. The reconstructions are not badly done. Lorna Larkin is a convincing stand-in for Dolours. Kate McCullough, among our best cinematographers, shoots those sequences with customary smoky beauty.
But the dramatisations are so much less gripping than Dolours’s own narrative that, once such a sequence begins, one longs to get back to the real thing. It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of contemporaneous news footage to pad out the interview.
Absolutely essential for all that.
- Opens: August 31st