Suzy (Froggatt) is a British soldier attempting to fit back into civilian life after fighting in Iraq . Haunted by the responsibility she feels for the death of an Iraqi child, she becomes obsessed with the safety of her own daughter, feeling the need to protect her against a threat that doesn't seem to exist. As Suzy's paranoia builds, her behaviour becomes more and more erratic, until finally, she puts her daughter in serious danger.
If, like me, you've had enough of the jingoistic blockbusters that have come out of Hollywood that superficially deal with events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you like human drama in its rawest form, then this is a film that should command your attention. It reminded me a little of Shane (This is England ) Meadow's work, but with an identity of its own. The movie is quite stark and realistic and pulls no punches.
In Our Name follows Suzy on her return home after a lengthy tour in Iraq . The death of a little girl, not far from her daughter’s age haunts her dreams and quickly affects her daily life. Initially, Suzy appears happy and feisty on her journey home but thanks to a surprise welcome party and the reaction to her, from her daughter Cass (Chloe-Jane Wilkinson), it’s clear that Suzy is troubled. This also manifests itself through her relationship with her husband Mark (Mel Raido) as she makes excuses why she can’t sleep with him. As time goes by, Mark becomes more frustrated as Suzy’s condition leads to paranoia which is partially justified.
The film addresses the theme of how war, and how being a soldier can affect a person. This is not just shown through the character Suzy. Mark is an ex-soldier and war has affected him in a different way. Early on we have sympathy with Mark as it’s not unreasonable for him to want his wife after her being away for so long, but as the movie progresses, we realise that he is, in fact, a nasty piece of work that even frightens his hardened army drinking buddies.
It’s clear that on Mark’s side of the family there is a tradition of serving one’s country and it runs quite deep in their past. Post-Traumatic stress is not something that the family like to discuss or recognise which is clear from the outset at the welcome party, hosted by Mark’s Father, Frank, played by the always reliable John Henshaw. At one point when Suzy breaks down in a caravan toilet, Mark breaks the door down with no empathetic understanding of what his wife is going through. Her friends have no idea, either. One of her close friends Sandra (Anne-Marie Gascoigne) asks Suzy to give a talk at a local school. She grudgingly agrees and attends with Paul (Andrew Knott). During this talk, we finally understand what Suzy has been bottling up and has deeply affected her. Froggatt’s anecdote about giving sweets to a young girl is both moving and shocking. It’s not like we haven’t heard similar accounts come from an urban battlefield before but it’s the actress’s delivery of the story that creates a lump in the throat. Suzy breaks down and hides away in the school toilet only to be confronted by Sandra who has no idea what the matter is and is more concerned that the talk went wrong.
Suzy becomes more and more paranoid about the neighbourhood in which she lives. Her constant surveillance of the local youths hanging around her property leads to her constantly reinforcing the back door to the house. The thing is we have to sympathise, as we have already witnessed the attempted theft of her daughter’s push bike. There’s clearly a problem element in what is established as a rundown area. The worry of local yobbos helps push Suzy closer to the edge of what’s reasonable and what isn’t.
The one support mechanism that could have benefitted Suzy is her friendship with Paul. From the train journey that opens the movie we are aware that they have a platonic relationship but Paul would have liked something more. Whilst Mark is bullish and dismissive of Suzy’s condition, Paul is more sensitive to the fact she might need help. Any chance of Paul making a positive impact on Suzy’s life is shattered during an innocent visit to Suzy’s house that Mark interrupts. Here we get the first real glimpse into just how unstable Mark is, as he takes Paul out to the garage and shows him a grisly souvenir of a bloody, damaged head scarf, taken in dubious circumstances. A confrontation in the local social club, later, further ruins the Suzy/Paul relationship but causes her to make her own discovery.
You'll no doubt recognise the spirited actress, Joanne Froggatt, from her roles as Sam Tyler's young mother in Life on Mars, one of the romantic leads in Season Three of Robin Hood (the best season of the lot) and her role in Downtown Abbey. Her role as Suzy in this movie is a departure from her previously popular roles and gives her a chance to really show off her skills as an actress. This is her first lead role and can’t have been easy without previous references on screen.
Her husband Mark is played by Mel Raido. At first we see him as just another husband who hasn’t seen his wife for some time and clearly wants to pick up the relationship. As the movie progresses, his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic until we learn the full nature of what his experiences in Iraq were and to what lengths he went to serving Queen and country. Raido oozes menace and dread as he shows his true colours.
Andrew Knott also shines in his role as a soldier who is more sensitive than most but manages to stand up for what he thinks is right. Chloe-Jane Wilkinson is a convincing child actress who works well with Joanne Froggat in the Mother/daughter scenes, especially towards the end as her Mother attempts to “save” her by escaping into the woods.
In Our Name is an ambitious debut movie which is one of the reasons that I compared the style to Shane Meadows. Bryan Welsh does not compromise in telling the tale of a female soldier coping with the return home after traumatic events in theatre. Drama centering on soldiers suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not new but I’ve not known it to focus on a female service person before. The fact that there is no judgement and political bias within the story is another credit to the screenplay. This is not so much an anti-war story as a tale of how people deal with PTSD and the damage it can cause. The movie recognises the effect of war on an individual. If there was uncertainty about this then it it is quashed by the final text that describes the amount of ex-service personnel that have been incarcerated following their return home.
There are many layers of subtext to
In Our Name
that put forward the heavy North England presence in the army, how living in certain neighbourhoods can pile on the pressures alone, and how family can make or break a situation. Brian Welsh is a writer/director to look out for.
7 out of 10 (Wayfarer)
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