FilmReview

Face Down: A gripping, properly enraging account of the IRA’s murder of Thomas Niedermayer

Face Down is adroit in its weaving of the ongoing consequences of a ghastly story that began almost exactly 50 years ago

Face Down
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Director: Gerry Gregg
Cert: 12A
Starring: Tanya Williams-Powell, Rachel Williams-Powell
Running Time: 1 hr 28 mins

Even for those who were alive and alert during the early days of the Northern Irish Troubles, the story of Thomas Niedermayer may reasonably have become obscured in competing outrages. At Christmas in 1973, two men knocked on the door of the German businessman’s house in Belfast, claiming to have problems with their car. Niedermayer’s two daughters called for their father, manager of the nearby Grundig factory, who walked into the cold, never to return alive.

Chaos and confusion followed. The press ran with a clutter of misleading rumours. The family heard nothing. It later emerged that the IRA had been negotiating with British authorities before those contacts ended suddenly and unexpectedly. Niedermayer’s body was found in a shallow grave some seven years later.

David Blake Knox, long a busy film and TV producer, first addressed the story in a book. Director Gerry Gregg now goes among the survivors for a gripping, properly enraging film version of a story – produced and written by Blake Knox – that implicitly speaks to current creative amnesia about the paramilitary violence. The film begins thousands of kilometres away with the experiences of the dead man’s granddaughters. As events progress, we learn that Niedermayer’s widow and both his daughters took their own lives in the years following the killing.

Featuring new footage by Seamus Deasy, bolstered by smoothly edited archive, Face Down – titled chillingly for how Niedermayer was found – is adroit in its weaving of the ongoing consequences of the ghastly story since it began almost exactly 50 years ago. It could hardly be otherwise. The film does reach a sort of resolution, but its theme, nonetheless, is how such brutalities echo down the generations.

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Some viewers will undoubtedly discover missing balance or bemoan some class of bias. That is how it always is with this subject. The discussion of the late Brian Keenan, the IRA commander who allegedly planned the attack, teases wounds that have not entirely healed. But few could argue with the coherence of the storytelling. The film digs up some still-startling horrors, but it also restores fleshed-out humanity to a decent man – more than a victim – who, like so many others, is often remembered just as a name spoken grimly on a distant news report.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist