Five Minutes Of Heaven starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, broadcast last night on BBC2 was a great piece of television. The main reason I know this is because I cannot stand James Nesbitt and yet I watched him twitching away for an hour and a half and didn't even think of reaching for the remote. Nesbitt played Joe Griffen who as a young boy witnessed his elder brother being murdered and has carried the guilt of his death ever since. His killer, Alistair Little, played by Neeson with cold professionalism has been haunted in his own way by the shooting, comitting himself to helping others deal with conflict after serving his twelve years in jail. Both of these characters are real men, in fact my wife heard Little speak at the Barbican many years ago, and what writer Guy Hibbert imagined, after exhaustive interviews with both men, was what might happen if they were to meet and try to reconcile the past.
The Truth and Reconciliation Comission in South Africa televised the results of confrontations just like this and it was the media force behind this meeting last night that allowed Hibbert to play on notions of authenticity, forgiveness and the difference between drama and documentary. In order to understand the men they are now, the first third of the film showed us the shooting as it happened, a brilliant piece of recreation, Mark Davison as the young Little looking uncannily like Neeson. The middle third dealt with the build up to the television meeting of the two men. Griffen, blamed by his mother for doing nothing to prevent his brother's death, is a man beset by nerves, answering voices in his head and bent on revenge. The artificial presence of the cameras, lights and make-up girl all building to make the moment of confrontation even more excruciating. Griffen is even forced to re-film the momentous walk towards his tormentor when the cameraman stumbles, ratcheting the tension up a notch further.
The focus afforded by taking a single event to examine the legacy of the troubles is what helped to make it such a successful piece of television. The acting was pretty damn good and the direction, from Oliver Hirschbiegel (of Downfall fame) taut and restrained. If you didn't see it and I haven't ruined it all with my ramblings then you can catch it on the BBC's wondrous iPlayer.