Famous names reflect on tragedy of Northern Ireland Troubles as Lost Lives film launched
A number of top Irish TV and movie stars have spoken of their hopes and prayers that a new Troubles film to which they're lending their voices will help to ensure that the violence never returns.
Liam Neeson, Sir Kenneth Branagh, James Nesbitt, Roma Downey, Ciaran Hinds, Conleth Hill and Stephen Rea are among 18 actors providing emotional voice-overs for the powerful movie based on the book Lost Lives, which chronicles each of the 3,700 deaths from almost 30 years of conflict.
The film, which is also called Lost Lives, will premiere at the Curzon Mayfair cinema as part of the London Film Festival tonight.
The four surviving authors of the book - David McKittrick, Chris Thornton, Brian Feeney and David McVea - will be there to see the film and to remember co-writer Seamus Kelters, who died two years ago.
The film, which was produced to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Troubles, focuses on 18 carefully chosen extracts from the book to reflect the wide range of killings carried out during the conflict by republicans, loyalists and the security forces.
It also covers killings which were never claimed by anyone, as well as deaths which were the result of suicide.
Londonderry-born actress and producer Roma Downey said she was deeply moved by the Lost Lives experience. "Lost Lives shows us such profound loss through the telling of individual personal stories," she said.
"The heartache and grief of these families is deeply touching. The film really lets you truly understand that the human cost was so high. Too high."
Roma said the film is a reminder that the victims aren't statistics in a book, but rather "flesh and blood human beings".
She added: "They are someone's wee boy or little girl, a loving wife or husband or a beloved mother or father.
"We saw too many funerals in Northern Ireland when I was growing up. Too many tears were shed. Too many hearts broken. So many lives were destroyed and for what?
"I pray this film is seen over and over and people watch and say, 'Enough, no more, never again'."
Enniskillen actor Adrian Dunbar, the star of the TV series Line of Duty, said the film feels like a "timely intervention" as the endgame of Brexit appears to be approaching.
He said a return of the border in Ireland could be followed by inevitable social unrest which he warns would be "an utter betrayal of the hard-fought peace the Lost Lives of the war in the north demanded".
Belfast-born Harry Potter star Ciaran Hinds says Lost Lives is a "truly vital film". "It's a potent reminder to steer us away from violence in the present, possibly very volatile climate," he added.
Sean McGinley, from Pettigo - who has starred in movies such as The General and Braveheart - said: "Three thousand seven hundred people, and counting, lost their lives.
"Regardless of their circumstances, or what side, if any, they were on, the only certainty is this - they died. Lost Lives might make us ask the question: Why?"
Among the deaths featured in the 90 minute film are those of nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, killed by an RUC bullet in 1969, and one-year-old Angela Gallagher, who died after she was hit by an IRA gunman's bullet two years later.
Other young victims whose tragic stories are told include William Gordon Gallagher (9), who died in an IRA landmine attack in Derry; Julie Livingstone, who was killed by a security forces' rubber bullet in Belfast; Philip Rafferty (14), who was shot after he was abducted by loyalists near his Andersonstown home, and 15-year-old James Kennedy, who was killed in the Graham bookies massacre in Belfast by the UFF. His last words were: "Tell my mummy I love her."
Kathleen Kennedy died just under two years later and Lost Lives quotes her husband as saying that she died of a broken heart.
The deaths of two tiny Dublin children also feature in the film. Anne Marie O'Brien, who was five months old, and her sister, Jacqueline, who was a year older, were killed along with their parents, Anna and Edward, in the UVF's Dublin bombings.
Bloody Sunday victim William McKinney is also remembered, as is soldier Stephen Keating, whose mother wrote an open letter to the IRA sniper who killed him several months after the Parachute Regiment shootings. The stories of two of the Disappeared also feature in the film - Brian McKinney and John McClory, whose bodies were found in Monaghan 21 years after they were abducted by the IRA in Belfast.
Readings in the film also include sections from suicide notes written by a woman and a man.
Julie Statham said she couldn't live without her fiance, Diarmuid Shields, after he was shot dead by loyalist gunmen, and convicted UVF killer Billy Giles hanged himself after his release from jail, expressing regrets for what he had done.
The producers of Lost Lives have sourced archive material to accompany the narrations and there are also clips of interviews with victims' relatives together with newspaper headlines.
The film also contains extensive and expansive footage of decaying buildings and beauty spots which starkly contrast with sometimes horrific images from the Troubles, including the Omagh, Shankill, Greysteel and Loughinisland atrocities.
After tonight's London screening, Lost Lives, which features a specially commissioned score performed by the Ulster Orchestra, will be showing at the Queen's Film Theatre over the weekend.
There will also be a question and answer session with the movie's co-directors, Michael Hewitt and Dermot Lavery from DoubleBand Films. It's expected Lost Lives will also air on BBC Northern Ireland next month.
The names of all the victims of the Troubles appear on screen at the end of Lost Lives, including a number of people who do not feature in the book, which had its last update in 2008 and which has been out of print ever since.
The last name to be recorded is that of Lyra McKee, the young journalist who died after she was shot in a dissident republican attack in Derry earlier this year.
Mr Lavery and Mr Hewitt said their film is a requiem for the dead of the Troubles, but towards the end they signpost their hope of a brighter future with film of a woman giving birth.
On screen, there's a note to say the baby is the grandchild of one of the Lost Lives, although they don't reveal the identity of the victim.