'The Irish suffered, but it was a great tragedy for Britain, too'

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The Independent Online

Scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern sat on the sofa in his high-rise flat in Liverpool watching the mayhem of Bloody Sunday unfold in the Bogside on his black-and-white portable television set.

Married with three children, the 23-year-old had yet to make his name as the author of the gritty television dramas Cracker and Hillsborough. He was working as a warehouseman for the local branch of Marks & Spencer when the bloodbath occurred.

Now, 30 years later, the campaigning film-maker has made a controversial drama documentary about the anti-internment march in Derry on Sunday 30 January 1972, in which British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed civilians and wounded another 15, one of whom died later that year. The two-hour film has already been criticised by members of the first battalion Parachute Regiment for pre-empting the Saville Inquiry by portraying the soldiers as ruthless gunmen responsible for the massacre.

The £3m drama, entitled Sunday, is indisputably graphic; it focuses on the story of Leo and Moira Young, whose brother John, a 17-year-old apprentice tailor, was killed on that day. It shows paratroopers forcing Leo out of the car to prevent him driving another victim, Gerard Donaghey, also 17, to hospital and Moira discovering her brother's body in the blood-soaked mortuary.

Other scenes include paratroopers firing at a first aid worker; shooting maintenance foreman Bernard McGuigan, 41, in the back of his head as he carried a white handkerchief; gunning down draughtsman Gerard McKinney, 35, who had his arms above his head; and playing pool after the massacre.

However, last night Mr McGovern, 53, defended the timing of the harrowing film. Speaking for the first time, he said: "The judge came along to our set. He watched the filming. I kind of accepted then that we had his blessing.

"As far as I am concerned, it can only help the inquiry. First of all, there is no jury. There are three very experienced international judges. A TV programme is not going to sway them either way. Secondly, this independent and international inquiry has twice been overruled by a British court. It has been rather easy for the British courts to overrule it.

"When the films go out, hopefully there will be a change of mood. People will understand what the inquiry is about – in Britain, I mean – and it may not be so easy in the future to overrule it."

When Mr McGovern, who has just finished writing a drama about Mary, Queen of Scots, was first approached to write a drama about Bloody Sunday six years ago, he refused. But two years later he was invited to Derry to participate in the annual commemorative march and he allowed organisers Stephen Gargan and Jim Keys, members of the Bloody Sunday Organising Committee, to persuade him to change his mind.

"There will be all kinds of accusations," he said. "When I realised that Bloody Sunday was a British tragedy – the Irish suffered, but the tragedy was ours – I knew I had the right to tell the story. But I don't only speak as an Englishman. I speak as an Englishman who loves his country. I am a patriotic Englishman.

"My argument goes that I love my country because I was born there, and my friends and family were all born there. I love my country when it is at its best, when it upholds truth and justice. In the case of on Bloody Sunday it spat on those principles and became unworthy of my love."

Mr McGovern went into the project believing that individual members of the Parachute Regiment were to blame for Bloody Sunday. "I no longer think that," he said. "I think the blame probably lies in Stormont and at 10 Downing Street. An army that is not controlled by its political masters is no longer an army. It's a rabble. And the Parachute Regiment is no rabble."

The outspoken film-maker refused to be drawn on whether the IRA or the Paras fired the first shot, claiming it is "irrelevant". "You tell the families of the dead, that their loved ones' deaths are justified because someone took a potshot, half an hour ago, half a mile ago, at the British Army," he said. "I do not think that stands up."