“50 Years of the Troubles: A Journey Through Film”: Review

A gloriously lyrical account of a coming of age lived through a love of cinema is gently, quietly, told by cinephile extraordinaire Mark Cousins.

It is a story which like the best fairy tales, is both personal and universal, a film that brings to life the sharp contrast between the vivid intensity of childhood and the nebulous sense of foreboding that drifts in from the world of adults – the reality of growing up, only partly sheltered, in a world of violent political conflict.  Cousins, who now lives in Scotland, grew up in Belfast during times that came to be known as ‘The Troubles’.

The indistinct shape of a stranger seen through an opaque glass door, a mother’s injunction to a child to run for cover at the first sight of trouble.  Green spaces and streets where children are perpetually absent, for fear of a stray bullet. And somehow, in Cousins’ story, this turns to magic, because this retreat to safety opens the door to an extraordinary world, which is both an inner world of sensations, emotions and adventure, but also a path towards experiencing the kinds of lives that one is unlikely ever to inhabit.  In narrowed circumstances suffused by adults’ anxiety, the grandeur of alternate worlds, cinematic worlds, blooms and billows.

“And then they came for cinemas”, Cousins mentions later, and remembers, as the camera shows ruined vestiges of those palaces of the mind – another legacy of the Troubles – that though he somehow remembers his past self as a cinema-goer, settling into comfortable darkness, the reality was borrowed or rented VHS cassettes, viewed at home, because picture-houses were no longer safe.  Then the world changed, and cinema-going, and playing in streets and parks, became safe again. Cousins now wonders if this might now be lost once more.

This is a deeply engaging cautionary tale, and affectionately told by Cousins, who for once does not direct, finding himself instead in front of the camera. Director Brian Henry Martin, the Belfast documentary director and critic – and founder member of the Belfast Film Festival – captures the elegiac mood beautifully.  There is humour and love in this, and hope too, still.

Writer & Presenter Mark Cousins | Director Brian Henry Martin | 1hr

50 Years of the Troubles: A Journey through Film – First broadcast on Sunday 1st September, Channel 4