By Dáire Cumiskey
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2897

Rose Dugdale thriller Baltimore draws you into an IRA art robbery

New film, Baltimore, tells the story of aristocrat turned art heist leader for the IRA—Rose Dugdale
Issue 2897
Baltimore film IRA Ireland

Imogen Poots (left) stars as Rose Dugdale in Baltimore

Set in 1974 at Russborough House, county Wicklow, Ireland, Baltimore covers the biggest art heist in Irish history. It was carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The high-intensity film fills in the gaps of the rather bumbling heist of priceless paintings. The Baltimore of the title doesn’t refer to the city in the United States but a town in county Cork in Ireland.

It’s the location of a safe house that the main character, Rose Dugdale, never reaches. Imogen Poots plays lead character Dugdale, with compassion.

The script attempts to give insight into the impact of radical movements on everyone, including those born into the ruling class. Dugdale’s story is in the same tradition as other class traitors, including Violet Gibson.

Gibson was the daughter of an Irish lawyer and politician who attempted to assassinate Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The central part of the film follows the attempt by Dugdale and four others to steal 19 paintings from Sir Alfred Beit and Lady Beit’s collection—one on loan from queen Elizabeth II.

The group demands the return of the painting in exchange for four prisoners jailed for IRA bombings in England to be transferred to prisons in Ireland.

The drama portrays Dugdale as an angry British heiress who adopts anarchism. She’s swept up in the anticolonial armed struggle waged by the IRA against the British state in the 1970s.

Throughout the film there are cuts to Dugdale’s life before and after the robbery setting the context for her radicalisation and her shift from aristocratic privilege to support for the IRA.

She was politicised especially by opposition to internment—a policy of jailing without trial in Northern Ireland from 1972. There’s a revealing scene where, together with her lover Walter, she attempts to rob her parents’ home of silverware.

They’re confronted by her shotgun-wielding mother, who then calls the police and two family servants to attack them.

In fact Walter was charged with handling stolen goods he’d taken for Rose not the actual theft of the goods—so that scene was likely a total fabrication.

The directors did not get the people who’s lives their film depicts involved in writing the script or casting. Hence they cast black actor Patrick Martins to play Walter who in real life is a white man from Yorkshire. 

Another pivotal moment sees Dugdale and her radical friends huddle around a TV in her London squat.

They watch, horrified, the breaking news of what became known as Derry’s Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers fired live rounds on civil rights demonstrators, killing 14 unarmed civilians.

Broadly the events of history in the film are presented well.

Directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawler humanise the heisters, offering minimal sympathy for the robbery victims.

Poots plays Dugdale as a tragic character akin to the subjects of the stolen art.

Dugdale practices her dodgy French accent while looking at an actress in one of the paintings. She soon becomes attached to the works of art and discusses their themes and powers with her comrades.

Baltimore goes some way to convey the heat, fear and chaos common to guerrilla warfare. But ultimately because the film only follows the actions of a very small group, it can only partially do that.

In real life Dugdale was sentenced to nine years after telling the court she was “proudly and incorruptibly guilty”. She gave birth to a baby boy in Limerick prison in December 1974.

In 1975 her accomplice Eddie Gallagher received a 20-year prison sentence for the subsequent kidnapping of a businessman.

The two other heist accomplices, Martin, played by Lewis Brophy and Dominic, played by Tom Vaughan, both got away. Dugdale, who died this week, had no involvement in the production.

This means it’s much more the writers’ creative exploration of what might have been.

Baltimore is in cinemas from Friday 22 March

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