Dramatisation of events on Bloody Sunday

Derry’s tragic past was revisited in 2002 with the release of Sunday. The film, produced by Derry company Gaslight Productions, deals with Bloody Sunday and the now discredited Widgery Report. The film was commissioned by Channel 4 and its script was written by acclaimed scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern.

Starring Christopher Eccleston, Ciaran McMenamin, Oliver Ford Davies and Brid Brennan, Sunday is a dramatised reconstruction of events in Derry between 1968 and 1973.  There have been minor changes to chronology and certain events have been dramatised, although the drama purports to be based on fact. Information was drawn from British Government documents, interviews, eyewitness reports and court transcripts.

1972 Derry, Northern Ireland. 27 yr-old Leo Young (CIARAN MCMENAMIN) is delivering coal with his brother John (BARRY MULLAN). It’s a few days before the planned Civil Rights March in the city protesting against internment of British citizens, but already the locals are talking about the event.

General Ford (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON), the COMMANDER OF LAND FORCES of the British Army in Northern Ireland, is seen dictating a memo suggesting that the only way to curb rioting and violence in Derry is to ’shoot selected ringleaders’ of the Derry Young Hooligans (DYH) - ’Gangs of tough, teenaged youths permanently unemployed, after clear warnings have been given ’

On the morning of the march, Sunday January 30th, 1972, the Paras are getting ready to leave their barracks in Belfast. These solders have never been sent into Derry before, where they have been told the IRA have a strong presence, to ’watch their backs’ and ’get some kills.’
The commander of the Royal Anglians (the longest serving commanding officer in Derry) expresses surprise and concern to Brigadier MacLellan that the Paras are being sent to Londonderry since they don’t know the ground.

As the people of Derry assemble for the march, it is clear that it is to be a peaceful civil rights march with organisers asking some demonstrators to take down Republican banners. More than 15,000 begin the walk through the streets to Free Derry Corner where there are to be speeches against internment.

As the march reaches the foot of William Street and the majority divert towards the rally at Free Derry Corner, a rowdy gang of young lads break loose from the march, advance to what was ’barrier 14’, and start throwing stones at the army.

Water cannon and rubber bullets are fired. Back on William Street a number of Paras have positioned themselves in deserted buildings looking onto the adjacent waste ground. Marchers are milling in the area. Some youths are throwing stones. Suddenly there is the crack of rifle fire. The army then fire several real bullets wounding two men. Two IRA members then retrieve a hidden rifle and fire a single shot at an army position. Leo (CIARAN McMENAMIN) tells Maura (EVA BIRTHISTLE) to go home, he will look for John (BARRY MULLAN).

As most people on the march remain unaware of the disturbance, those who have been near the shooting scatter. Meanwhile at barrier 14 General Ford arrives and calls out in support of the Paras as they pass through the barrier and give chase to the fleeing crowd. As John Young (BARRY MULLAN) & Jackie Duddy (PAUL CAMPBELL) flee, the scene fades to black over the sound of gunfire.

As Leo Young carries a young wounded lad into a nearby house and others from the march help the wounded, the Paras retreat and one boasts he fired more than 22 shots. In television interviews eyewitnesses claim the marchers fired no shots, while General Ford claims that the soldiers only fired after 10 or 20 shots were fired at them.

Leo leaves the house where the wounded lad is being attended to continue his search for his brother. Outside he sees two bodies lying. One is a young lad, it might be John. He runs towards them and himself comes under fire. Taking cover he waits until the Paras withdraw and approaches the bodies. Its not John, but he helps take the wounded boy to a house where there is a doctor. The injuries are critical and Leo must help get the boy to hospital, forcing him to abandon his search for his brother
As Leo takes the unidentified lad to hospital he is stopped at an Army roadblock and the soldiers arrest him and take the young lad away, his fate unknown

Maura Young (EVA BIRTHISTLE) returns home to tell her mother that people are saying that John (BARRY MULLAN) has been injured but no one knows where Leo is. Maura goes to the local hospital only to find her brother’s body in the morgue. The Paras are back in Belfast watching the news reports and in celebratory mood in the mess. At a local army base, Leo is questioned, fingerprinted and then eventually released.

Derry is in shock: 13 civilians are dead,15 have been wounded. News reports continue to insist that the Army only opened fire after they were shot at and those killed were ’gunmen at the barricades.’ The families of those killed know differently. Still unaware of the identity of the youth he tried to take to hospital, Leo goes from wake to wake to try to find out whether he lived or died. He soon discovers that it was Gerard Donaghey (MICHAEL COLGAN) and he is dead. The army say he had nail bombs in his pockets.

At the wake for John Young, Maura breaks down and accuses her mother of not caring and not crying for her dead son. Mrs Young (BRID BRENNAN) says that she has cried, but that Maura and John will never see it, because if they did, they would take up the gun against the British and she fears that they too would end up dead.

As the coffins are carried to rest at the local church, the British Prime Minister in Downing Street, Ted Heath (CORIN REDGRAVE) is asking the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery (MICHAEL BYRNE) to lead the inquiry into the shootings. Widgery suggests they confine events to a very narrow time period and says he can report in a matter of weeks. Heath reminds Widgery that ’we are not just fighting a military war in Northern Ireland, we are fighting a propaganda war as well.’

In Derry, RUC policemen question the wounded in hospital as they try to watch the funerals of their friends and relatives. One injured man hauls himself to a ward where an injured soldier lies and attacks him violently with his crutches.

At the inquiry, Leo arrives to give his evidence - stating categorically that when he found him, Gerard Donaghey had no weapons in his pockets at all. Widgery dictates a note to the tribunal in which he states he can pile up the case against the dead, he cannot find with any certainty that any of the dead or injured were gunmen. Further eyewitness testimony from people on the march suggests that another unarmed man, Barney McGuigan (MICHAEL LOUGHNAN) was shot and killed while waving a white handkerchief and trying to reach and comfort the shot and dying Paddy Doherty (JIM KEYS).

General Ford insists in his evidence to Widgery that his men only opened fire when they came under attack and suggests that the IRA had hijacked the march.

The Paras who come to give evidence disguised in royal green jacket uniforms, and sunglasses, argue amongst themselves as to whether they will tell the truth or not. One suggests they lie as they were only following orders and that those to blame are the politicians in London. The majority stick to their claims that they were fired upon and fired only at armed gunmen. Only one Para, Para 027 (KENNY DOUGHTY), submits written evidence that contradicts that of his colleagues. A lawyer for the Crown tells him his evidence will not be needed. We enter the day in flashback through his memories of the day: the Paras advancing and firing at unarmed civilians; they’re continuing to advance despite his calling for a ceasefire.

In Glenfada Park Para G (DEL SYNNOTT) is seen shooting the wounded Jim Wray (JAMES WRAY) in the back while he is lying on the ground and firing at a nurse trying to help the wounded. We then see Para 027’s reaction as he comes upon the carnage. His testimony is not used.

As Widgery concludes the inquiry, he reports he has been impressed by the evidence of the soldiers and believes on the whole they told the truth. He lists ’evidence’ against the dead and blames the organisers of the illegal march for creating a highly dangerous situation in which a clash between demonstrators and the security forces was almost inevitable. He concedes only that ’some soldiers showed more restraint than others and in Glenfada Park firing bordered on the reckless.’

In light of the ’whitewash’ that the people of Derry declare the inquiry, young men are seen taking the oath of allegiance to the Irish Republican Army. Leo goes to a house where several men wait to take the oath. He blames the British for his brother’s death and does not care if British soldiers die - but he cannot bring himself to join the IRA.

At Buckingham Palace General Ford receives an honour (Commander of the Order of Bath - 1973) from the Queen. Leo returns to delivering coal in Derry.