Co-author hails adaptation for sensitive handling of source material
The film Lost Lives is the "polar opposite" of the award-winning book it is based on, it has been claimed.
Lost Lives - being shown on BBC on Sunday night - shocked one of the book's authors, the veteran journalist David McKittrick, when he first saw it.
The film, voiced by a host of Northern Ireland acting talent including Liam Neeson, Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Rea, James Nesbitt, Roma Downey, Ciarán Hinds, Adrian Dunbar and Bronagh Waugh, is packed full of emotion in direct contrast to the now out-of-print tome which charted every killing during the Troubles and which was deliberately dispassionate.
But while writers are often angry when the movies of their books are dramatically changed, McKittrick and his fellow authors could not be more delighted.
"In researching the book we decided not even to use the word 'murder', although it features in terms of charges brought and in some quotes," said McKittrick, who is now retired.
"We wanted to keep it as unemotional and flat as possible. But the film is full of emotion and raw grief. It is very powerful and it came as a shock to me.
"But it's a decision we wholly approve of. There is no objection whatsoever from us. They have decided to go for the horror and I believe in some of the first screenings of the film, there were actual gasps in the audience."
The former Irish Times Northern Editor and his co-authors, the late Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea, are listed as consultants but insist they had very little to do with the film.
Graphic footage from the Troubles - some unearthed from the vaults - is juxtaposed with beautiful imagery of rivers, waterfalls, a swan.
And there are grisly details, including flesh and bone fragments in the film, underpinned with stirring theme music.
Like the book, the 90-minute film does not detail the political talks or backdrop of negotiations and attempts to broker peace.
The film-makers selected just 18 deaths across the entire period of the Troubles - including two suicides - but broadly reflect the attrition rate of republican and loyalist paramilitaries as well as State forces.
Co-director Dermot Lavery said: "For us the book was a riposte, a challenge to all of us, for allowing this terrible loss of life, all this grief and heartache in the place where we lived.
"You just need to hold the book in your hand and feel the weight of that loss."
Top Irish actors and stars who were involved in the film spoke to Sunday Life last year about their fears over the political vacuum and Brexit.
Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar, from Enniskillen, warned social unrest is almost inevitable while the potential return of a border seemed an "utter betrayal".
Ciarán Hinds, whose many movie credits include Road to Perdition, Munich, Frozen and Excalibur, said the current climate is potentially volatile.
Londonderry actor Roma Downey said the human cost over more than 30 years was "so high. Too high".
And Donegal-born Sean McGinley who starred in Braveheart and Michael Collins said: "3,700 people and counting lost their lives in the Troubles. Lost Lives might make us ask the question - why?"
Co-director Michael Hewitt said they had no problem in signing up a virtual who's who of Irish actors, also including Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Brendan Gleeson and Sir Kenneth Branagh, to the project.
"Once we explained what it was we were doing, they were all very quick to come on board which was very important to us, firstly because of their incredible ability to deliver the selected extracts from the book," Mr Hewitt said.
"But we also felt there was something important in that they were willing to join us, they were not just lending their voices but giving their voice in support of what the film represents for us.
"A reminder of the terrible loss, in the hope that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past."
Lost Lives, BBC 1, Sunday at 9pm