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DUBLIN 2024

Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor • Directors of Baltimore

“When people feel passionate about something and see no results, they turn to action”

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- The Irish directors discuss their Imogen Poots-starring non-biopic and the “bonkers” true story behind it

Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor  • Directors of Baltimore

Meet Rose Dugdale (Imogen Poots), an English heiress-turned-revolutionary who decided to leave her old life behind. In 1974, IRA sympathiser Dugdale was involved in the Russborough House theft, fleeing with paintings by Vermeer and Rubens. We spoke to Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, the directors of her “non-biopic” Baltimore [+see also:
interview: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
film profile
]
, which is screening at the Dublin International Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: It’s fascinating when someone decides to talk about a real person yet underlines it’s not a biopic.
Joe Lawlor:
We never got any resistance regarding this story. Mainly because…

Christine Molloy: …of our past work?

JL: Definitely. And because of where it has gone and the recognition it has garnered. People probably thought: “That’s an interesting departure from the way we look at our recent socio-political history.” It also came out of a documentary we made a couple of years before. Nobody had a problem with this not being a biopic.

CM: I think it would have been more surprising. “You are making a biopic?!” It only becomes an issue when you present a film to the audience and they expect something more traditional, or a more classical heist film. Still, for those who have seen our work, it’s less of a hurdle.

Sometimes, when you see “alternative” takes on someone’s life, they can be very arthouse-y. Yours is extremely watchable!
JL:
We have heard that reaction before, that there is something less niche about it that could appeal to a slightly broader demographic. It’s about a heist; it’s very character-driven.

CM: Imogen is so compelling. We got very lucky, working with her. That makes a difference as well: she is a strong presence on the screen.

JL: Also, there is such a range of colours. It can be hard at times, but also very humorous. It’s not just one-note. There is energy, momentum and pace to the film. It’s not like we don’t care where the movie goes – we care a lot – but what you try to do is write a script and make sure this triptych structure actually works. You hope it will be exciting and not disorientating.

It’s a story about anger, and as Rose states, it’s hard to pinpoint where it comes from. Did you want to have this tension throughout the film? People rarely smile here.
CM:
Maybe in the scene in the cottage, when they watch news coverage of the heist and almost pat themselves on the back? But even then, they probably worry about what’s next. It’s true – there aren’t many scenes when people are let off the hook. Having gone to that cottage in Cork where they were hiding – although we couldn’t film there – you just try to imagine what that was like, being cut off from everybody, with all these pressures and this fear.

JL: Did they really think it would work? There was something incredibly well organised about it and really badly thought out. They are so driven but completely blind to the wider political reality. This confusion is incredibly interesting.

I don’t think Rose, who is still alive, is that well known abroad. Were you wondering how much you would have to explain?
CM:
We had to account for where she came from. It makes this story even more fascinating; it makes it an anomaly. Still, we could only suggest certain things. We first screened the film at Telluride, and even though the USA has a strong relationship with Ireland, it was a story most weren’t familiar with. There were so many wonderful films – we thought we were going to get lost, but it found its audience really quickly!

JL: You can put in all this information, or you can just say it’s based on real events and jump on the train. You are putting the puzzle together while it’s moving.

CM: What I was worried about was how many people, particularly young folks, know anything about Bloody Sunday. It was a moment that changed her – she said that herself. In Ireland, people are familiar with this story; they bring more attitude and baggage. But we hoped there would be something universal about it.

JL: Today, there is a growing sense of anger about the failure of politics to resolve big problems. Take climate activism: you see these organisations becoming more militant. When people feel passionate about something and see no results, they turn to action.

CM: The problem [back then] was when people were killed and blown up, just going about their business in their hometowns. Rose tried to blow up an RUC station. It was another failed endeavour, but there was an intention to do that.

We are discussing serious issues, but there are moments in the film that are just hilarious: there are bad French accents and stupid mistakes. Where does this humour come from?
CM:
I think it came from her, because you read about these things and go: “Really?” She talked to a police officer in a French accent when they were looking for someone with a French accent. They were sloppy and amateurish. She would wear crazy make-up and mad wigs, and once, she took on this persona of a British journalist doing research about a bird sanctuary. Completely bonkers.

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