Imogen Poots in Baltimore Imogen Poots in Baltimore

Jamal Elaheebocus reviews Baltimore, an unconventional biography of conflicted IRA member, Rose Dugdale

The release of Baltimore is very timely. Just 4 days before its release, Rose Dugdale, the focus of the film, passed away in Dublin aged 82. Her story is a fascinating one and Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy do a very good job of portraying it in an absorbing way.

The film centres around the most notorious act of Rose Dugdale’s life: the theft of 19 valuable paintings as a ransom for the release of two IRA prisoners. The film is split between this event and Rose’s (Imogen Peets) upbringing and later radicalisation.

Dugdale grew up in an aristocratic family on Yarty Farm, a 600-acre estate in Devon, her father a millionaire underwriter at Lloyd’s. As Rose grew up, she became ashamed of her family’s wealth. This culminated in her stealing £85,000 worth of valuables from her own parents, which she intended to give to the IRA. This is one of several scenes in the film depicting Rose’s radicalisation. There is also a focus on her activity as a student at Oxford, where she participated in a protest inside the Oxford Union against the rules banning women from the Union.

Peets emotively portrays the realisations that Rose has as she grows, coming to realise what her parents represent and the injustice in a British society plagued with poverty and a British ruling class taking part in the colonial occupation of Northern Ireland.

Whilst neither glorifying nor condemning Dugdale, the film shows the process so many people undergo of radicalisation and the anger at injustice which brings people into the movement. A scene with Rose in a squat in London, watching the atrocities of Bloody Sunday on the news, shows this well.

With a relatively limited budget, Lawlor and Molloy use a small number of settings, particularly focusing on the rural cottage Dugdale rents to hide herself and the stolen paintings in the aftermath of the heist. It gives the film an intensity, which is enforced by the unnerving soundtrack composed by Stephen McKeon (Black Mirror).

Many parts of Dugdale’s life are missed, including her part in an attempted bombing of an RUC police station in a hijacked helicopter and her role as a bomb-making expert in the IRA following her release from prison. With a bigger budget, a full biopic may have been more satisfying, but Baltimore, with a runtime of only 98 minutes, still manages to keep you absorbed and doesn’t brush over any details.

Throughout, we see Dugdale’s battle with herself between the cause she passionately believes in and the crimes she feels she has to commit. This is particularly highlighted when she is caught out by an elderly Irish man, played by Dermot Crowley, and has to contemplate whether to kill him. As well, the focus of the heist lies largely on Rose’s interaction with a young boy of the aristocratic family who she has to attempt to reassure while carrying out the heist.

The film ends with Dugdale attempting to escape with the paintings to a safe house in Baltimore but is caught by the police. Rose pleaded “proudly and incorruptibly guilty” and was sentenced to 9 years in prison, where she gave birth to her son with another IRA activist, Eddie Gallagher.

Baltimore is an unconventional and jagged film but one with fascinating politics behind it and which is kept engaging and entertaining by some very good performances.

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