Gilbey on Film: what to watch in 2010

Our film critic chooses his highlights

Three weeks ago, I was sitting in a café ("café" being the euphemism of choice for those of us who frequent any of the popular high-street coffee chains, but would rather people didn't know it) when I fell under the spell of the couple at the next table. Not only were they bickering -- always prime eavesdropping material -- but the contentious subject was movies. He wanted to see Avatar that evening, while she was adamant that paying to watch a film that she knew in advance would be pure tedium was not on the cards for that Friday night, or any other.

I did my utmost to appear absorbed in my reading, and to refrain from rushing to the defence of this sane-headed woman. Just as well, really, because the entire fabric of their relationship was starting to unravel. "Whenever you choose the film, it turns out to be crap," she argued, which would have given her the upper hand, had he not immediately produced his trump card: "You're the one who made us see Save the Last Dance." Oof! That's gotta hurt.

Now we're on the other side of Christmas, I find myself wondering if they made it through. The odds weren't good; when the topic moved on to films they were looking forward to in 2010, he cited Iron Man 2 and the forthcoming remake of Clash of the Titans, while she sought silent consolation in her cappuccino. As I started coming over all superior towards my fellow coffee-consumer, I wondered if my own Must-See list for the coming year was any more radical than his. The answer: not really.

Most of the films I'm excited about are safe bets in their own way. For example, I can't wait for The Killer Inside Me because the idea of Michael Winterbottom directing Casey Affleck in a Jim Thompson adaptation sounds like dynamite (and because someone who caught an early cut assured me that it's impressively nasty).

Scott Pilgrim v the World has me hooked already because I adore the director (Edgar Wright) and the source material (Bryan Lee O'Malley's witty graphic novels about a lovestruck bassist who must overcome his new girlfriend's evil exes). And I like the look of Gentlemen Broncos, a florid comic fantasy about a science-fiction writer who plagiarises the work of a fan; I'm hoping it will return the writer-director Jared Hess to the heights of his debut, Napoleon Dynamite, after the disappointment of Nacho Libre.

I also hear great things about the new films from Claire Denis (White Material) and Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman). And I'm eager to see Chris Morris's first film, the jihad comedy Four Lions. But then, who isn't?

More than any of these partly known quantities, though, it is the surprises that get me buzzing: the films I haven't heard of, by directors whose names don't ring a bell, but which will in all likelihood change my life. The idea that they are out there somewhere is like the promise of an undiscovered colour. Or, at the very least, a new flavour of ice cream.

Ryan Gilbey blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Martin McGuinness's long game: why a united Ireland is now increasingly likely

McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

In late 2011 Martin McGuinness stood as Sinn Fein’s candidate in Ireland’s presidential election, raising all sorts of intriguing possibilities.

Raised in a tiny terraced house in the Bogside, Derry, he would have ended up living in a 92-room presidential mansion in Dublin had he won. A former IRA commander, he would have become supreme commander of Ireland’s defence forces. Once banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, he would have received the credentials of the next British ambassador to Dublin. Were he invited to pay a state visit to London, a man who had spent much of his youth shooting or bombing British soldiers would have found himself inspecting a guard of honour at Buckingham Palace.

McGuinness would certainly have shaken the hands of the English team before the Ireland-England rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin every other year. “I’d have no problem with that,” he told me, grinning, as he campaigned in the border county of Cavan one day that autumn. Though a staunch republican, he enjoyed the “Protestant” sports of rugby and cricket, just as he supported Manchester United and enjoyed BBC nature programmes and Last of the Summer Wine. He wrote poetry and loved fly-fishing, too. Unlike Gerry Adams, the coldest of cold fish, McGuinness was hard to dislike – provided you overlooked his brutal past.

In the event, McGuinness, weighed down by IRA baggage, came a distant third in that election but his story was astonishing enough in any case. He was the 15-year-old butcher’s assistant who rose to become the IRA chief of staff, responsible for numerous atrocities including Lord Mountbatten’s assassination and the Warrenpoint slaughter of 18 British soldiers in 1979.

Then, in 1981, an IRA prisoner named Bobby Sands won a parliamentary by-election while starving himself to death in the Maze Prison. McGuinness and Adams saw the mileage in pursuing a united Ireland via the ballot box as well as the bullet. Their long and tortuous conversion to democratic politics led to the Good Friday accord of 1998, with McGuinness using his stature and “street cred” to keep the provisional’s hard men on board. He became Northern Ireland’s improbable new education minister, and later served as its deputy first minister for a decade.

His journey from paramilitary pariah to peacemaker was punctuated by any number of astounding tableaux – visits to Downing Street and Chequers; the forging of a relationship with Ian Paisley, his erstwhile arch-enemy, so strong that they were dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers”; his denunciation of dissident republican militants as “traitors to the island of Ireland”; talks at the White House with Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama; and, most remarkable of all, two meetings with the Queen as well as a state banquet at Windsor Castle at which he joined in the toast to the British head of state.

Following his death on 21 March, McGuinness received tributes from London that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Tony Blair said peace would not have happened “without Martin’s leadership, courage and quiet insistence that the past should not define the future”. Theresa May praised his “essential and historic contribution to the extraordinary journey of Northern Ireland from conflict to peace”.

What few noted was that McGuinness died with his ultimate goal of a united Ireland arguably closer to realisation – albeit by peaceful methods – than at any other time since the island’s partition in 1921.

The Brexit vote last June has changed political dynamics in Northern Ireland. The province voted by 56 per cent to 44 in favour of remaining in the European Union, and may suffer badly when Britain leaves. It fears the return of a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland, and could lose £330m in EU subsidies.

Dismay at the Brexit vote helped to boost Sinn Fein’s performance in this month’s Stormont Assembly elections. The party came within 1,200 votes of overtaking the Democratic Unionist Party, which not only campaigned for Leave but used a legal loophole to funnel £425,000 in undeclared funds to the broader UK campaign. For the first time in Northern Ireland’s history, the combined unionist parties no longer have an overall majority. “The notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished,” Gerry Adams declared.

Other factors are also working in Sinn Fein’s favour. The party is refusing to enter a new power-sharing agreement at Stormont unless the DUP agrees to terms more favourable to the Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will win if the DUP agrees to this, but it will also win if there is no deal – and London further inflames nationalist sentiment by imposing direct rule.

McGuinness’s recent replacement as Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland by Michelle O’Neill, a personable, socially progressive 40-year-old unsullied by the Troubles, marks another significant step in the party’s move towards respectability. As Patrick Maguire recently wrote in the New Statesman, “the age of the IRA old boys at the top is over”.

More broadly, Scottish independence would make the notion of Northern Ireland leaving the UK seem less radical. The Irish republic’s economic recovery and the decline of the Roman Catholic Church have rendered the idea of Irish unity a little less anathema to moderate unionists. And all the time, the province’s Protestant majority is shrinking: just 48 per cent of the population identified itself as Protestant in the 2011 census and 45 per cent Catholic.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum if a majority appears to favour Irish unity. Sinn Fein is beginning to agitate for exactly that. When Adams and McGuinness turned from violence to constitutional politics back in the 1980s they opted for the long game. Unfortunately for McGuinness, it proved too long for him to see Irish nationalism victorious, but it is no longer inconceivable that his four grown-up children might. 

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution