Five Minutes Of Heaven, a hard-hitting new Irish film about the Northern conflict and which had its premier in Sydney last June, will go on limited release in cinemas in Australia from March 18, it has been revealed.
The film’s Irish stars Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, as well as director Oliver Hirschbiegel, were all in Australia in last June for the premiere which took place as part of the Sydney Film Festival.
And so well was it received at the festival that it went on to win the audience choice award.
An at times emotionally trying tale, the film tells the story of real-life UVF assassin Alistair Little (Neeson) and the attempted reconciliation between himself and Catholic man Joe Griffin, whose older brother was murdered by Little in Lurgan back in 1975.
The story is based on real events, but tells the tale of a reconciliation between the two men which has yet to happen in real life. The inherent message nevertheless remains powerful and uplifting.
The film was extremely well received when it premiered at Sydney’s State Theatre on June 11, after which the Irish Echo caught up with Nesbitt, and director Hirschbiegel, to speak about it.
“The last project I worked on about Northern Ireland before this was Bloody Sunday, which told the story of a defining moment in the Troubles,” Nesbitt explained. “But with the North now emerging from conflict it was a challenge for filmmakers to decide what to do next.
“How can you address the past but still look to the future? This film is about just that. It’s about the notion of reconciliation, and about two individuals in particular.”
Although the script was extremely well received by Hirschbiegel and Nesbitt, it was only when Hollywood star Neeson came on board that the project really got off the ground.
“I’m good friends with Liam – he actually grew up on the same street as my granny and remembers her well – and we had been looking for something to work together on,” Nesbitt added.
“He came on board with this project and it all kind of went from there. When Liam Neeson gets on board with something the funding seems to suddenly arrive!” he laughed.
The story itself is at times heart-breaking. “It certainly isn’t a comedy” admits director Hirschbiegel, who was also responsible for the Oscar-nominated World War II masterpiece Downfall. But it is highly engrossing, and also represents Nesbitt’s finest performance to date in the role of a man broken by his past.
He says the challenge was trying to get into the mindset of Griffin who was tormented by his brother’s murder.
“I investigated the possibility of spending time with Joe and he was up for that. This is a very damaged man – but both of these men have a serious history of damage.
“Joe’s pain is just so much more complicated because one day he was an 11-year-old boy who was loved and literally overnight he was suddenly unloved.
“He was honest and truthful with me, but he was articulate and courageous. These boys didn’t do this film for money, but they were happy to have their story told. I suppose it was a kind of a catharsis for them.
“Joe, I’m happy to say, is now attending counselling for the first time in his life. It’s the beginning of a long road but at least he’s on it now.”
Nesbitt added that while he and Neeson enjoyed the filming process and the time they got to spend together – “they couldn’t keep us apart for the social process!” Nesbitt laughs – the seriousness of the subject matter was something close to both their hearts.
“As much as I’d like to say that I’m an actor who just happens to be Irish, Liam and I both felt that, coming from there, subconsciously you can’t help but have an instinct or even a responsibility to in some way tackle the Troubles in our work.
“You can’t help but bring some part of yourself to every part you play and we haven’t forgotten who we are or where we come from. It really was a privilege to be able to be a part of a project like this.
“Northern Ireland is still only emerging from all this but it’s an incredibly exciting place to be right now.”
by Aaron Dunne