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A very fine film, but one which closes the door on reality

PUBLISHED: 11:28 14 November 2007 | UPDATED: 14:38 07 September 2010

When, as editor of a daily paper in Northern Ireland, I ran a news story about the discovery of a wedding ring on a Belfast hillside, little did I realise that a decade later it would provide the plot for a film. And not just any film, but one directed b

When, as editor of a daily paper in Northern Ireland, I ran a news story about the discovery of a wedding ring on a Belfast hillside, little did I realise that a decade later it would provide the plot for a film.

And not just any film, but one directed by the great Richard Attenborough and starring those icons of the silver screen, Shirley Maclaine and Christopher Plummer, as well as the very lovely Mischa Barton and one of my very own favourite actors, the living legend that is Pete Postlethwaite.

That ring had belonged to a young American serviceman who perished in 1944 with the rest of the crew as a B-17 bomber smashed into a fogbound Cave Hill, just north of the city.

Anyone who has ever visited Belfast on a clear day will instantly recognise the mountainous mound of earth and granite that looms over the city like some great prehistoric beast.

From its craggy peaks it affords spectacular views of the County Antrim coastline, across the lough and the sea, all the way to Scotland.

But on that June evening it became a graveyard for young airmen flying far from home with an inexperienced navigator and faulty equipment.

Half a century later the name of a dead US serviceman, and that of the new bride he had left behind, were still legible, inscribed on the inside of the now disfigured ring discovered near the crash site.

Eventually, the finder managed to return the ring to the American widow, sealing a poignant and quite remarkable love story spanning 3,000 miles and 50 years.

When I heard that the story was now the subject of a film, I couldn't wait to see it. I was delighted to receive an invitation to a preview screening, but was dismayed to find that while Closing The Ring is a real tear-jerker, with several notable performances (Postlethwaite's in particular) the touching tale has been garnished so profusely that I could only marvel at the ingenuity and daring of the scriptwriters.

It being set in 1990s Belfast, car bombs explode in the streets and an IRA leader is assassinated by undercover SAS. A bearded man who looks suspiciously like Gerry Adams is seen wandering the hills extolling the virtues of the republican struggle. The finder of the ring also finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is savagely beaten like some extra from Pulp Fiction, before being forced to become a police informer.

The now raddled bride of the dead serviceman, not long off the plane from Michigan and sober for the first time in years, is seen comforting a dying soldier caught in a vividly-illustrated bomb blast.

The moving scene in which Shirley Maclaine holds the hand of a young man in uniform as he takes his last breath has an obvious resonance with an earlier tragedy, and is supremely well-crafted, but it is pure fiction.

In my view the real story needed no embellishment and I found the whole process of turning genuine and deeply-felt human suffering into cinematic splendour just a touch sad, and a little bewildering.

My disenchantment was compounded when I embarked upon an internet search to see what those cynical critics in the United States had been saying about the film, coming to it as they did from a clear vantage point, unburdened by the weight of expectation.

Sadly, but tellingly, the first article I discovered was headed 'Mischa Barton Will Be Nude In Closing The Ring'. It went on to say: ''Mishca fans are in for a treat in upcoming movie Closing The Ring. The 22-year-old actress does two steamy scenes right at the beginning'' - at which point I was only too pleased to disengage from the wonders of the world wide web and reflect on what a young woman must have felt more than 60 years ago when she heard the news that the man she loved was dead - and in the cruellest irony, not from enemy action but from an easily avoidable flying accident.

Gratuitous nude scenes or not, Closing The Ring is a very fine film (general release date is December 28) and the invited audience enjoyed it immensely.

But it is a distance away from the touching story that moved so many when first told in rather more delicate tones a decade or so ago.

Geoff Martin

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