Home Lifestyle Entertainment Preview screening of film about ‘divisive’ heiress who turned IRA volunteer

Preview screening of film about ‘divisive’ heiress who turned IRA volunteer

Madeleine Casey (London Breeze Festival, Dermot Crowley, Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor and Sam Cullis (London Breeze Festival).

The Irish World was there for a special preview screening of the film Baltimore.

Written and directed by Joe Lawlor and Chrstine Molloy, known as Desperate Optimists, Baltimore tells the story of Rose Dugdale, the privileged English heiress who rebelled against her upbringing and status to join the IRA.

The film’s released follows Rose’s death on Monday 18 March but the screening and this interview took place before that event so all references to Rose were made when she was still alive.

After its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in November, and fresh from its Irish premiere at Dublin International Film Festival, London Breeze Festival hosted an exclusive preview screening of Baltimore at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

Baltimore is based on the infamous true story of Rose Dugdale, a debutante who turned her back on her upbringing to join the IRA despite not being Irish but being affected by images of Bloody Sunday.

The film tells the story of the IRA’s raid on Russborough House in Wicklow in 1974. Rose Dugdale would be arrested for her part in the raid with the paintings being recovered.

Imogen Poots plays the part of Rose while Tom Vaughan- Lawlor and Dermot Crowley are among the supporting cast.

We spoke to Joe and Christine at that special screening.

Christine told The Irish World: “We’re really pleased to have been invited.

“It’s the third time now that we have screened the film to a London audience.

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“It’s very good for us to have this opportunity to bring it to an audience before the release.

“We came across Rose Dugdale during the process of making two documentaries.

“One of the documentaries she doesn’t make an appearance, but she made an appearance on the second documentary.

“By then we had become so much more engaged and interested in her story.

“It probably was inevitable that we were going to try at least to write a script and make a film about her which is unusual for us because we’ve never made a film before about a true life, historical figure.

“Normally we start to script from scratch with fictional characters. So this was a very interesting process.”

Joe says: “With her story we’re also interested in the ideas that surround her, ideas that were prevalent in the 60s and 70s. Issues around anger and frustration with politics and with social changes and social issues that were there.

“I think we also tapped in to that part of it and that kind of made us feel that there’s a deep connection between what was happening back then to now.

“Those decades have a lot to teach us, I think.”

Joe Lawlor and actor Dermot Crowley during Q and A.

Christine adds: “Yeah. And I think with Russborough House, we kind of are probably familiar with the Martin Cahill story because of the film The General.

“When Joe came across this research that showed that there was a previous robbery ten years previous to the Martin Cahill heist at Russborough House that involved a woman orchestrating the raid and it was before the house was turned into a museum and then the whole connections with the IRA and the troubles- It was a real eye opener.

“For both of us it immediately became a real seductive tug to learn more about her.

“How did she ever come to be in this situation that night in April 1974?

“What brought her there? What brought her to that point?”

You’ve screened the film in London and in Dublin. She’s such a divisive figure, are there different reactions on the different sides of the Irish Sea.

Joe says: “There are to varying degrees.

“You’re right, she is a divisive figure.

“I get the feeling, though, that when people are watching the film that we’re making less of a political point than what they may have imagined, we’re sort of trying to go in between two rocks that you could kind of get impaled on which is either lionising her or damming her, we’re trying to do neither.

“Our moral position really is to kind of avoid those two pitfalls and really sort of look at why somebody would do something that she did.

“And why did somebody change over the course of 10, 20, 30 years before she became famous for this, or infamous for this act that she did.

“We’re trying to get into the psychology of a person, rather than having a particular political opinion about her and give that over to the audience.

“Every so often, you’ll hear a little bit of a reaction where somebody wants us to have been more damning of her.

“We avoid that studiously but overall, I think people have really enjoyed the storytelling of the film, which we’re really pleased about.”

Christine adds: “We’re intrigued by this character.

“Wherever she ended up and whatever she may have done in her life, she still has something to teach us.

“She’s still a very intriguing character in terms of somebody who was committed, was certainly focused on injustice in society.

“Before she ever ended up as a kind of a member of a rogue active service unit, semi-attached to the IRA, orchestrating this raid on Russborough House, she had done things that we probably all would admire.

“She gave all her money away to people who had nothing.

“That’s very admirable.

“And before she was ever involved with the IRA, she was a Marxist and she was a Marxist who lived her beliefs in a very particular and committed way.

“So there is a lot to admire about her.

“And we all have to acknowledge that she kind of came of age and came into her skin at a very particular moment in history which was very febrile.

“There was so much going on everywhere, and in Northern Ireland with the troubles.

“It’s a very particular time.

“She’s an anomaly. She came out of nowhere.

“She’s not Irish, she’s not from Northern Ireland, she’s actually a posh British heiress so she’s slightly at odds with the normal idea we might have of somebody who might end up with the IRA.

“But I think we can learn something from her, and then we can decide for ourselves what we feel about what she did and where she ended up.

“But we were intrigued by her, I think she’s a very fascinating character.”

Of their lead actress Christine says: “Imogen was always our number one choice.

“We had our sights set on Imogen hoping that she’d be interested in the project and right from day one when she first arrived on set, we felt we’d gotten so lucky.

“She brought so much to the table that we were very grateful to Imogen for being in our small film.”

Joe says: “There’s something very special about Imogen.

“There’s a kind of a wonderful, refined English kind of poshness but there’s also this wild punk kind of spirit that Imogen naturally has where you can kind of see she completely would settle into that role and just bring so much into it.

“To play a part which is equally compelling and charming at the same time, somebody has got to have the ability to switch like that, to be violent and terrifying one moment and then to utterly charming and vulnerable the next, that’s a real skill. And Imogen was just so amazing.”

The film makers could have tried to make contact with the real Rose who is now an old woman and lives in a nursing home in Dublin but decided this would be unhelpful.

“I guess we could have if we wanted to,” Joe says.

“I guess we could have put in a few calls.

“We know people who are connected so I don’t think that’d be so difficult.

“I suppose the thing is that we didn’t want to meet her because then you’re getting into knowing somebody and feeling a moral responsibility telling their side of the story in that classic biopic way.

“This isn’t a biopic despite the fact it’s about her, it’s more about her actions.

“We kept a lot of clear water between ourselves and Rose.”

In 2012, Rose was the subject of a TG4 documentary entitled Mná an IRA.

Christine says: “I think a really important thing for us is that there was a short documentary half hour long made in 2010, called Mná an IRA.

“It was a series of films that were specifically looking at women connected to the IRA movement.
“One of the short firms was made about Rose Dugdale and she’s interviewed in it.

“Hearing her voice, hearing her talk, it was all so specific and relevant to what we were doing.

“I think that made all the difference

“Any sense we might have had somewhere in the back of our mind early on in the process like, ‘I wish we could meet her’ became irrelevant.

“Actually hearing her and the research that we did helped us to find our own way into our version of the story.”

Baltimore is in cinemas in the UK and Ireland now.

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