Veronica Guerin

by Chris Bertram on September 1, 2003

I went to see Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin on Saturday night, and left the cinema with mixed feeings. On the one hand I’d spent a reasonably enjoyable evening watching a moderately exciting film; on the other, I felt that justice really hadn’t been done to an important true story. The characterization was pretty weak and the whole thing had a made-for-TV feel about it (it wasn’t). Cate Blanchett as Guerin was all gloss and pressure and her portrayal of the journalist was very one-dimensional (driven obsessive with a side interest in football to give the appearance of depth). Ciaran Hinds as gangster-informer was a bit better, but most of the gangster characters were straight from central casting. The key moral dilemma of the story, Guerin’s choice to put her child at risk for the sake of her cause, was far too quickly and easily dealt with. There’s another film covering the same material – When the Sky Falls – I hope it is more convincing.



Maria 09.02.03 at 7:34 am

Funnily enough, everyone in Ireland I talked to about this film thought the best thing about it was Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Veronica Guerin. Which is by no means a scientific poll, of course. I thought Blanchett’s was something of a one note performance, but I never had the impression that Veronica Guerin, when she was alive, was more of a thinker than a doer. I’ve not heard any complaints that it was an unrealistic portrayal of her character. It’s certainly true, though, that the film glosses quickly over the central moral dilemma.

My main criticism of the film was the Hollywood treatment of Irish politics which tried to deliver a ludicrously pat ending.

The ‘member of Parliament’, or TD as he would be actually called in Ireland, who featured through the film was an unctious little rule follower. In real life, Tony Gregory is an almost pathologically independent socialist who once brought down a left-wing government over the price of children’s shoes. I saw the film in Killarney where people laughed out loud at the portrayal of Gregory as a man in a dapper little suit. I’ve never seen him wear a tie in my life!

At the end of the film, the voice over tells us that within weeks of Veronica Guerin’s death, the parliament passed a constitutional amendment to change the drug laws. Bollocks. Even those very unfamiliar with Irish politics will be aware of the national convulsion we go through every time our constitution gets changed. We can only amend it by referendum, and even when under the gun, it still takes at least 18 months from start to finish. Why the scriptwriter thought it sounded better to call it a change to the constitution, and not simply a much-needed piece of legislation, I will nevert know. Perhaps it sounded grander. And the final scene of a minor opposition politician standing in the middle of Dail Eireann (the parliament) signing a Bill to the applause of the House – well, it might look pretty, but it’s complete rubbish.

Does any of this matter? Not really. The truth is that Veronica Guerin’s death did prompt the government of the day to finally change the criminal code and allow for seizure of the assets of criminal suspects. It didn’t rescue Ireland from the evil of heroin (no more than St. Patrick banished the snakes), but it helped, a lot. But the film’s laughable political gaffes, numerous cheap shots at other Irish journalists, truncating of real moral dilemmas, and constant over-statement of the case for Veronica’s martyrdom and sainthood did, for me anyway, undermine and demean Veronica Guerin’s real life achievements.


northsider 09.02.03 at 9:35 pm

Naw, Tony Gregory never wears a tie. Ever. That’s part of his shtick. He’s served us well in this part of Dubbilin though.


kathryn 02.04.04 at 12:35 pm

Maria is right. The Constitution of the Republic of Ireland can only be amended by a referendum.

However, it was Jim Kemmy who precipitated the general election of February 1982 over the imposition of VAT on children’s shoes by a coalition government of Labour and Fine Gael.

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