Troubles (1988)

“In Ireland, you must choose your tribe.”

It’s 1919. Ireland is on the brink of an uprising, so it’s probably not a good time for a visit. But shell-shocked Major Brendan Archer (Ian Charleson), who’s survived the trenches of WWI, goes to Kilnalough, Ireland to visit his fiancee, Angela. He arrives at the train station and is met by Angela’s ill-mannered brother Ripon (Breffni McKenna) who treats him rather cavalierly. The odd treatment Archer receives continues when he arrives at the dilapidated Majestic Hotel–the home of the peculiar Spencer family. The Majestic was once a splendid place, the centre of local social life, but now it’s falling down from decay and neglect. Dozens of cats breed indiscriminately in filthy rooms, and rotting animal parts are left abandoned in old cupboards. Angela’s eccentric father, Edward (Ian Richardson), greets Archer like an old friend, but Angela (Susannah Harker) doesn’t exactly rush to Archer with open arms–in fact, she seems to avoid him.

Archer almost immediately is faced with the growing civil unrest in Ireland. And while the Spencers hunt Sinn Feinners with tennis rackets and ancient weapons, there’s a serious undercurrent afoot. Edward Spencer imagines that the Majestic is a British frontier, and his autocratic, feudalistic treatment of the political situation (and the servants) courts disaster.

Following the death of his aunt, Archer is inexplicably drawn back to the Majestic once more. He returns to Kilnalough to discover that the political situation has deteriorated even further. British soldiers–headed by Captain Bolton (Sean Bean)–are bivouacked at the Majestic. Instead of protecting the British community, the British soldiers treat everyone–Irish and British, Catholic and Protestant–with equal disdain. Major Archer–the moral centre of the film–is appalled by the behaviour of his fellow countrymen, but his warnings to Edward fall on deaf ears.

Based on the novel Troubles by J.G. Farrell, the story explores the high cost of imperialism with corruption evident on all sides. Imperialism has made the impoverished starving natives murderous, and the Spencers–the last bastion of the British presence–are all loonies.

Troubles is extremely well acted. Fans of Sean Bean should be aware that his role–while intense and riveting to watch–is relatively small. Fans of the book will love this British television film as it visually fulfills all expectations. Those who haven’t read the book, however, may find the film’s tone confusing. The book’s structure leaves no room for misunderstanding–the hotel’s decay and the Spencers’ eccentricities mesh together beautifully, but in the film, serious scenes are juxtaposed with great eccentricities, so at times the film is jarring and seems to deliver a mixed message. In spite of a few flaws, Troubles is well worth a look for all fans of British television. From director Christopher Morahan.

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