The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BALTIMORE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BALTIMORE

Baltimore review
The true story of Rose Dugdale, the English heiress who became an Irish revolutionary.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor

Starring: Imogen Poots, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Lewis Brophy, Jack Meade, Patrick Martins, Dermot Crowley, Andrea Irvine

Baltimore poster

The most dangerous revolutionaries are those who adopt a cause on someone else's behalf: the white Islamist, the middle class communist, the Westerner who heads off to Ukraine to kill Russians. Such people often feel they have to prove themselves, which makes them willing to commit extreme acts. There's also the hot-blooded passion of falling in love with a new idea, which can cloud the mind. With Baltimore, the filmmaking partnership of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor explore this idea through the figure of Rose Dugdale, an English heiress who joined the IRA in the early 1970s.

A non-Irish filmmaker of a left-wing bent would probably portray Rose as an unambiguous heroine, but Molloy and Lawlor are Irish filmmakers of the generation that saw Ireland gradually turn against the atrocities committed in their name, that saw a freedom movement increasingly hijacked by cold-blooded criminality. As such, whether fairly or unfairly, Rose is portrayed here as a well-intentioned but misguided interloper with the potential to cause harm to the very people she claims to be fighting for. Even if you support the team, it's difficult to get on board with this particular captain.

Baltimore review

The movie is centred around the most famous chapter of Rose's brief career as a Republican revolutionary, the raid she undertook with three male IRA members on County Wicklow's Russborough House. Rose and her gang stole paintings whose value amounted to the most significant art theft in history. The plan was to blackmail the authorities into releasing interned Republican prisoners with the threat of destroying the paintings.

When Molloy and Lawlor initially conceived of bringing Rose's story to the screen, they can't have foreseen how timely it would become. The news is now filled with stories of pieces of art being attacked by political activists, whether it's statues of controversial figures being toppled or masterpieces being smeared with cans of tomato soup. It's raised a debate on the value of art and whether it can justifiably be targeted. Rose declares that despite her expertise of art, she's more than willing to destroy the plundered paintings if her plan doesn't work out. Her less educated companions seem more upset by this idea, especially one young man who has been exposed to such art for the first time through the heist. Rose later becomes extremely annoyed when her actions are rejected by the imprisoned IRA members on whose behalf she believes she's working. In a statement read out on the radio, the prisoners ask Rose to return the art, as they believe the world is a better place for their existence.

Baltimore review

Rose can't see art in such terms because she views the paintings as a commodity, something to be treasured rather than experienced. She would rather destroy them than have them remain on view to the Irish public. As a child we see how she was surrounded by such artworks and thus took them for granted. It's a contrast to how her IRA colleagues view the paintings with inquisitive wonder. When they ask Rose about certain details of the paintings, her replies suggest she's repeating academic interpretations rather than her own feelings.

This favouring of cold reason over emotion fuels the film's most tense subplot, as Rose debates over whether she should kill an elderly local farmer who may or may not have identified her. The irony of killing an Irishman seems lost on her, as does her disdain for Catholicism. She believes she's acting on behalf of the people of Ireland, but few in 1970s Ireland would have wanted to be represented by an English atheist. This theme of an outsider activist doing more harm than good for the people she's acting for is mirrored by a flashback that sees a young black man's life ruined when he's caught aiding Rose in stealing from her own home - she walks free while he gets nine years in prison. The Irish men in Rose's IRA cell may refer to her as "comrade" but it's clear that for all her communist sympathies she doesn't regard them as equals, and you can almost imagine Rose silently muttering about "ungrateful Paddies" at several points when reality gets in the way of her fantasies about armed activism.

Baltimore review

Imogen Poots is fantastic in the role of Rose. As we watch her transform from a teenager striking out against chauvinism and the class system to the cynical thirtysomething pointing a gun at the back of a farmer's head, the growing deadness in Poots' eyes embodies Rose's unquenched thirst for revenge against the indifference of her parents to their privileged position, leaving us in little doubt that Rose's activism is fuelled more by personal rebellion than political revolution. Equally excellent is Dermot Crowley as Donal, the farmer who finds his life threatened by Rose. His face is a picture of innocence, representative of the unwitting victims of conflicts they don't understand but which arrive on their doorstep nonetheless. The tension is aided by Stephen McKeon's score, whose discordant drum beats sound like the march of an army that's gotten off course. It's reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's score for Taxi Driver, as is the out-of-body sequence that closes Baltimore. Like Travis Bickle, the Rose Dugdale portrayed here is a rebel who picks a cause to satisfy their own grievances. She's a freedom fighter, but the question is whose freedom she's really fighting for.

Baltimore is in UK/ROI cinemas from March 22nd.

2024 movie reviews