Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Film's ring of truth but it's not the full story

With the premiere of Ulster-made wartime movie Closing The Ring taking place next month Eddie McIlwaine finds that the film is an absorbing cinematic experience - even if it does only show glimmers of the truth

Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine takes the lead role as a widowed second world war American Bride in Closing the Ring, a film by legendary British director Lord Richard Attenborough (above)

Don't be looking out for too many historic facts when the wartime movie Closing the Ring arrives at a cinema near you after Christmas.

Right enough, this romantic drama, produced and directed by Lord Richard Attenborough centres around the crash of an American B17 bomber plane on a hillside overlooking Belfast in June 1944 with the death of its crew of 10.

But really, apart from the finding of the cherished ring of the title, this is one of the few glimmers of truth in the whole production starring Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and Pete Postlethwaite, who will be in town for the premiere on December 13, with the movie going on general release on December 28.

In fact, Lord Attenborough couldn't even allow the Flying Fortress of his film to end up as a smoking wreck on Cave Hill where the real B17 came down.

Curiously, he has the screen bomber crashing on Black Mountain.

And there is a sub-plot involving the IRA as the story takes a leap forward in time. Nobody it seems can make a film about Ulster anymore - even one whose main action goes on 25 years before the Troubles began - without involving the bombers and the gunmen.

The truth about the tragedy of the B17 is that it crashed on Cave Hill on June 1, 1944 on a flight from Newfoundland to Nutt's Corner - then an American air base.

"It is believed that the pilot in poor visibility confused his first glimpse of Belfast Lough for Lough Neagh and flew straight into Cave Hill after his wireless operator took a reading from Langford Lodge which was also an American base on the Lough Neagh shore," says Ernie Cromie of the Ulster Aviation Society which supplied artefacts for the movie.

Today there is a memorial up there on the hillside by Bellevue Zoo near the scene of the crash where pieces of uniform and fragments of the B17 are still being uncovered.

The film is the story of a battered gold ring found at the site in 1991 by Alfred Montgomery, a 43-year-old lorry driver from Carnmoney.

He spent three years tracking down the widow of the owner, air crash victim Staff Sergeant Lawrence Dundon in Kentucky to where Alfie travelled to return it to her.

She was by now remarried and widowed for a second time and called Mrs Ruth Gillespie.

Montgomery became fascinated by the story of the tragic Flying Fortress when he was first taken up the Cave Hill by his father to the site as a boy one Sunday afternoon after Sunday School at Ballysillan.

He has been a regular visitor to the scene ever since and has picked up various artefacts from the wreckage. And then came the day when he found that ring on which the names of Lawrence and Ruth were poignantly etched.

On screen she becomes Ethel-Ann and he is Teddy and their love affair before he flies off to the war is told in flashback with 21-year-old London-born Mischa Barton and Stephen Amell in the roles. In the later stages of the film screen legend Shirley MacLaine plays the still grieving widow with Plummer as Chuck the veteran and friend who survived the war.

Make no mistake - Closing the Ring, which I have watched, develops into an absorbing and touching love story and romance set against the backdrop of the war as it affected Northern Ireland, shot on location here and in Branagan, Michigan.

It will be one of the hits and crowdpullers of the New Year as more than 50 years after her true love flew away an old lady is reunited with the ring that signalled their union, even if Lord Attenborough, in the way of all filmmakers, takes more than a few liberties with the facts.

Closing the Ring is an absorbing cinematic experience - whether widow Gillespie over there in Kentucky or Alfred Montgomery agree is another matter.

MacLaine as the older widow reunited with that precious ring, could win some kind of award as could Postlethwaite, as the searcher all his life for something precious from the Flying Fortress crash site, if only for his near perfect Belfast accent.

There are roles too for local actors BJ Hogg as a member of the RUC Special Branch and Ian McElhinney as an IRA bomber.

Others in the cast include Neve Campbell, Gregory Smith and David Alpay.

And look out on screen for fledgling actor Martin McCann as young Jimmy Reilly, who according to the way Attenborough tells it, was the one who actually found that all-important ring and started the years rolling back.

He puts in a superb performance for one so youthful.

UTV is preparing a documentary on the B17 crash and the movie which will be screened early in December.

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