by / February 25th, 2016 /

The Truth Commissioner

Review by on February 25th, 2016

 2/5 Rating

Director: Declan Recks
Cast: Roger Allam, Barry Ward and Conleth Hill
Certificate: 12a
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: February 26th

Rigidity is a synonym of political dramas. Conceived when a detailed and cumbersome plot engages in sensual congress with the temptress that is hammy expositional dialogue. What they spawn is rarely anything other than a cast of robotic actors, almost unbearable to watch, were it not for the quality of the story itself. Scandal is a fine example here, since a typical scene can be summed up as follows:

President: I do not need to deal with these people. I am the President of the United States of America, gosh damn it.

A security guard enters.

Security Guard: Mr. President of the United States of America, it is urgent! There has been a shooting in Buffalo, which is located in New York State!

Olivia Pope: Who are you and why are you bothering The President of the United States of America? Do you not understand that he is currently attempting to negotiate a deal with the Iranians who are holding our men hostage in Iran, because that is where Iranians are from? The President of the United States of America cannot be interrupted. He is having a difficult day, what with the Iranians from Iran, and also due to personal issues with his wife at home in the White House, which is the building that we are all in?

Security Guard: You are correct. Please forgive me, Mr. President of the United States of America.

This why people fell in love with Armando Ianucci’s empire of political satire, because unlike the po-faced drama lot, he threw in the grit, the curses, the um’s, uh’s and blunders of real life interaction. Leaning heavily on acronyms and inside terms, his style does not talk down to audiences, but in doing so, makes the experience authentic and relatable on some levels. One would have thought this new form of political fiction might have impacted how writers attempt to portray the genre, yet it is clear, the influence was not as vast as I believed.

Concerning The Truth Commissioner, the directorial debut of Declan Recks, based on David Park’s 2008 novel of the same name, once again, the political drama resumes its old ways, and were it not for the semi-decent story, this would be a total car crash. Set around a Northern Ireland truth commission in the present day, the film follows Henry Stanfield, the commission’s chairman, played by Roger Allam, familiar to many as the downtrodden Conservative Peter Mannion from The Thick of It. Unfortunately however, he appears to have forgotten how to act naturally since that show concluded, even if he is the sole character onscreen that is not fashioned from a block of wood.

Stanfield’s task is to preside over a series of public confessions, given by members of the Official IRA, UDA, UVF and the relatives of their victims. Previously having served as a truth commissioner in Libya, his experience is impressive, though what he does not anticipate is the latent beast that is Sinn Fein, which will violently pounce at the slightest provocation. Focussing specifically on the murder of a fifteen year old boy, alleged by the IRA to have acted as a police informant, Stanfield’s attempts at unlocking the secrets behind this case may end up rupturing the Good Friday peace agreement, unless he compromises his investigation by appeasing those accused of this murder.

Hopping back and forth between the present day, and the 1970’s, with a cliff hanger coming every twenty-five minutes, The Truth Commissioner seems less a film, more a re-edited BBC television drama. This certainly explains why the acting standards are consistently subpar. Nonetheless, the storyline stands up enough to keep you watching with sufficient interest, as it throws a variety of subplots our way. Ranging from MI5 subversion, to cross ideological collusion, the overall experience is not entirely disappointing, even if the whole ordeal comes off the tracks a few times in the concluding act as the weak Stanfield family arc takes centre stage.

Quite relevant in how it draws a few parallels with the case of Jean McConville, and the general disastrous impact of the Boston College Oral History project, this work does not feel completely gratuitous. In saying that, however, there are a still a few moments here where it does seem as if Recks is exploiting a traumatic period purely for the sake of entertainment.