Sometimes timing really is everything. In 2002, Channel 4 marked the 20th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre with a flagship film drama by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern, starring future Doctor Who Chris Eccleston. Problem is, Paul Greengrass’ film on the same subject had already aired on ITV eight days earlier. Bloody Sunday went on to receive a cinema release, share the Golden Bear award at Berlin and kickstart its British director’s Hollywood career. Rather like one of those non-Big body swap movies from the late 1980s, McGovern’s effort simply got lost in the throng.
With two Bournes under his belt and an Oscar nomination on his CV for United 93, Greengrass is capable of going from action thrillers to provocative issue pictures in an instant. But in a way, Bloody Sunday is a bit of both: a devastating reconstruction of how 13 civil rights marchers came to be shot dead by British paratroopers in the Bogside area of Derry, filmed with all the kinetic urgency and adrenalin-inducing propulsion of a Jason Bourne car chase. It’s rooted throughout in a revelatory performance from James Nesbitt, with Greengrass’ restless camera putting you right there alongside his anguished MP as the nightmare unfolds. It also ends on the mother of all cliffhangers: Nesbitt’s Ivan Cooper warning the British government through gritted teeth that it will “reap a whirlwind”.
Bloody Sunday’s DVD reissue, augmented by an eyewitness commentary and new interviews with the key players, still makes for harrowing viewing. No less compelling, however, is its informal sequel Omagh, a moving account of the appalling terrorist bombing in the eponymous town that left 29 dead and more than 200 injured in August 1998. Scripted by Greengrass and directed by Pete Travis (soon making his Hollywood debut with Vantage Point), it’s another harrowing reminder of the human cost of the Troubles, viewed through the eyes of a bereaved father (Gerard McSorley) fighting for justice. In short, a double bill to cherish. Why, then, are they being released separately?