Calling ‘The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid’ a documentary wouldn’t quite be fair.
Defying any stratifying definition, the fusion docu-drama chronicles Thomas Reid, ‘playing’ himself, in a recount of his oft-labelled David and Goliath battle against the Irish authority attempting to compulsorily acquire his 72-acre farm right next to one of Ireland’s most significant, ever-expansive multinationals.
The entity itself seemingly devoid from proceedings, as near mockingly suggested as the film progresses, Australian viewers will inevitably and within bare minutes fondly recall probably the most beloved modern local classic, ‘The Castle.’
The similarities far from few as Reid bluntly refuses to barter at any price for the family estate where he works as a solitary farmer, the authorities are incredulous that he wouldn’t take the millions and just set himself up elsewhere, nigh anywhere. Depicted by actors as they behove Reid to settle, the action near all takes place on Reid’s farm, amid his piled home or occasional wanders into town to pick up groceries.
It is Reid himself who is the most compulsive part of this film. A man of bluff, seldom speech content to work away and kindly answer any questions anyone puts to him but same tell it just how it is; never so forthright as he remains outwardly unassuming. A figure who may regretfully have been the subject of ridicule by his most ardent oppositionists and who might not have been treated with proper dignity by the filmmakers is welcomely taken as seriously as the proceedings which threaten to upend his life.
Lacking the abundance of archival news footage, stakeholder accounts or interviews that would typically stack this sort of doco from end to end, we’re filled in by Reid and others he converses with on how matters pan out. Speculation will fairly brim at more than one occasion as to whether we are seeing actors or Reid’s contemporaries, something not unedifying to puzzle.
Too elaborating on events with the re-staging of the trial and else on Reid’s own farm, the mock court proceedings, as interesting as they are, have the hitherto unwelcome effect of taking us out of the style the film had so well evinced when it otherwise subtly inserts the intrusions into our farmer’s intended lifestyle. Figures in the background surveying the farm or entreating our titular figure have the effect of promoting the lived-in aesthetic that together with our ventures into his home so well situate us in Reid’s life and predicament. The court’s presence in his field, fairly necessary for the enunciation of the story, is so comparably unnatural to all else that transpires; the sequences’ lectured bona fides jarring with near every other creative end portraying Reid’s battle.
The capturing of farm footage used for the breadth of the film is otherwise remarkably well managed, with Director Feargal Ward, too a news photographer, showing a remarkable capacity to secure strong depth of field in naturalistic environments both light and dark. Such a quality of image is usually bereft from even significantly better financed productions, most infamously and recently, say, this week’s much-maligned Game of Thrones chapter.
Returning to the analogy of ‘The Castle,’ ‘The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid’ is nevertheless distinct in that we are here situated in an economic context which according to the authorities statedly demands Reid’s sacrifice to bolster jobs, construction roles and significant investment in the area. It is a matter, given too the media coverage, that would no doubt have engendered great opinion and debate among local communities. Save for Reid’s sparing interactions with friends, the form of the documentary, while elaborating on the argument for securing Reid’s premises, grants little insight into the broader sentiment outside the two main players; fairly a significant aspect of what would have confronted both sides.
The documentary is very sympathetic to Reid as no doubt any viewer will be and frames the fight, and not unreasonably so, as one of an individual who simply wishes to maintain what he and his family have rightfully held. That transpiring outside the immediate realms of the two adversaries is a dimension to this saga strangely bereft from the feature which in it’s abundantly creative style manages to endear us not simply to Reid but his ever-relatable, agitating struggle.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid screened as part of the Irish Film Festival in Sydney and will screen at Melbourne’s Kino on Saturday May 11
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