Socialist Worker

'I wanted to write the truth'

JIMMY McGovern is best known for his The Dockers and Hillsborough TV dramas. Jimmy, who wrote the Channel 4 film Sunday, spoke to Socialist Worker.

Issue No. 1784

What motivated you to make a film about Bloody Sunday?

I WAS asked to do it about six years ago and I refused. I thought, 'I'm an Englishman. I can't do that.' I agonised over that. Four years ago I was invited across to the Bloody Sunday commemorative march.

I started to talk to people and that changed my mind. I realised that the whole point of the event in 1972 was that it was a British tragedy. Although it was Irish pain and grief and what we did to them was horrendous, the tragedy was ours. We saw a community we could not police or control. We took action-we killed people. And that meant a really well armed, massively resurgent, thoroughly supported IRA.

There's a counter-argument that what the British army could not handle was the mass movement. They thought they could handle the IRA. The army intention was to kill the civil rights movement.

What did you learn from making the film?

I learned a lot about Ireland and about me. For four years it was very hard over there.

I realised I loved my country, I loved England. I then had to work out why I, a cynic, a bad socialist, love my country. I cannot help loving my country-I was born here, my family and all my friends are here, everything I love is here. The fundamental question is, 'If I instinctively love my country, how can my country prove worthy of my love?'

The very least it can do is always uphold truth and justice. Truth and justice, habeas corpus and the right to assembly were all denied to Irish people at times over the last 30 years. When my country does that it hurts me.

This film is needed. As they said over Hillsborough, the film itself might be the closest people get to justice. One of the biggest mistakes the government ever made was the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland. In the film we see the highest judge in the land sitting in a room with prime minister Ted Heath and home secretary Lord Hailsham.

That judge interprets what Ted Heath says to him as, 'We want a whitewash, Lord Widgery,' and he delivers a whitewash. This man, who owes everything to justice, shits on justice. When justice is denied, even good people turn to thoughts of revenge.

Is there any continuity between this and other films you've written?

I think there's a theme in my work. The Bloody Sunday families watched Hillsborough and wanted the man who wrote that film to tell their story. The Dockers was written because I wanted to help out. Good drama occurs when the small person takes on the powerful. We want David to beat Goliath.

I like to think I write the truth. In the case of Bloody Sunday, as horrific as it is, it's the truth. Everything in that film can stand up. I interviewed 40 to 50 people, face to face, for hours on end. We interviewed hundreds of people in all, to get a real feel for what happened on the day.

We always ensured that all the families of the dead were on board with this film. We were not going to go there, pick from their brains, rob from their hearts and piss off. We made sure they knew every step of it. This way you start to set the agenda of the families.

Over Hillsborough the only time the families were seen in print was to respond to a lie. When the film was made the families' version of events became the agenda. That's a key thing in this story. Because we got it so true, the people were so involved, it's a much better film. The British press has to respond to this agenda, and they do not like it.

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Sat 26 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1784
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