Northern Ireland’s film industry has been getting busier over the last few years, though few (if any) films have yet enjoyed the kind of world-wide distribution that Hollywood blockbusters guarantee. Small Engine Repair was a fun film, but hard to find even in London’s West End.
Last night we caught Closing the Ring in the Strand cinema. (It premiered at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall the night Ikea opened.) You could tell it was a limited distribution since they didn’t run any trailers or ads before it. Just the main attraction starting dead on the advertised time.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a film, centred around an American B-17 bomber that crashed in fog into Belfast's Cave Hill in June 1944. Peter Woodward – the film’s writer and son of Edward Woodward – was inspired to write the screenplay when he heard a news story about the discovery of an airman’s wedding ring at the mountain crash site.
Armed with a handful of facts, Woodward manufactured a fine plot that is slowly revealed as the film jumps back and forth between wartime America and (1990s?) Belfast.
It’ll not jar half as badly with English or American audiences, but as a local the first few minutes watching Mr Quinlan and smiley Jimmy Reilly (played by Pete Postlethwaite and Martin McCann) were excruciating as they gave their best impressions of north Belfast accents while digging up Cave Hill to look for parts of the B-17. Thankfully as the film progressed, my brain tuned out the accents, and concentrated on the story.
It follows a trio of friends who are training in the US air force in Branagan, Michigan and are falling in love with Ethel Ann (Mischa Barton). With America joining the war effort, Teddy quickly marries Ethel, carrying her engraved ring with him into war, making his friends promise to look after her if he doesn’t return.
Obviously the plane goes down. But the emotional upshot on Ethel Ann is complicated and tear-inducing for much of the Strand’s cinema goers.
We get to see modern day Ethel Ann (Shirley MacLaine) as she slowly reveals her story: love, loss, faithfulness and a lack of grieving since the crash, followed by a near-unbelievable reconciliation at the end. There’s also a parallel story in Belfast with strange goings on up on Cave Hill, with an explosive finish to the film that shows off Belfast’s worst side.
But overall the film falls down with its acting. The characters don’t gel together on-screen, leaving it feeling altogether graceless. Despite Ethel Ann’s nearly too-perfect looks, there’s a total lack of chemistry as she throws herself at her rugged timber-frame-house-building beau Teddy Gordon (Stephen Amell). You could say the acting’s as wooden as their house!
Although some of the shots form Cave Hill looking over Belfast Lough are stunning, the falcon imagery throughout was touching and the CGI of the plane crashing is good enough ... it’s no Gandhi and Closing the Ring falls well short of the kind of epic I’d expect from Richard Attenborough. Worth seeing - but for the story rather than the acting.
A film that feels like it would have made a terrific novel.