The title of Feargal Ward’s new documentary, The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, is quite an apt one. There are no real interviews with businessmen or government officials to contend with. We do know that the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) wanted to purchase Thomas Reid’s farm under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) so Intel could expand in the local area and presumably create more jobs for the surrounding community. The Intel factory stands in marked contrast beside Reid’s own property. There is a hell of a to-do. The Courts are called upon. Yet lonely is essential to getting at the heart of the film. Ward’s camera is ultimately fascinated more with the man, his habits, his work, his land. There is an intimacy to the footage, a clear yet unspoken trust between Reid and the filmmaker. We are not expected nor invited to laugh at Reid and his possessions and lifestyle. He works hard and spends the rest of his time requesting songs from radio stations and sorting through old records and videotapes. He couldn’t be less like the forensically clean Intel business, looking calmly towards the tech future in Ireland whilst Reid reaches back to the family that have populated the land for over 100 years. There are photographic reminders everywhere. It is David versus Goliath but perhaps it also a battle for the soul of the country.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is sympathetically edited by Tadhg O’Sullivan (Ward and O’Sullivan’s film Yximalloo is also worth seeking out) bringing a gentle rhythm to the beautiful filmmaking on show. There are scenes from the subsequent court actions re-staged by actors on the farm grounds and whilst these work well for this reviewer they may not work for everyone. We are treated to some stunning drone shots over both Reid’s land and the Intel lands adjacent. Again, the contrast is marked. There is no doubt whose side of the fight the documentarians are on.
We see Reid go through his farming routine every day and it is indeed hard work. This is a working farm and Reid wants to continue to work it. There is the sense that if he so desired he could become a millionaire quite quickly. But money doesn’t seem to interest him. Reid, whilst somewhat unknowable seems to live a life of quiet contentment. In the modern Ireland where money talks and property values walk, this is admirable. But this is not a sombre documentary. A shopping visit to Tesco becomes an amusing mini odyssey with Reid displaying a canny eye for a bargain.
We are giving information throughout, but it is somewhat in the background with through brief snatches of news radio. At no real point do we see Reid panicking about the decision to be made. The filmmakers may well have deemed such footage as unnecessary. We know what is at stake in cases of this kind. Through it all seasons change, and we look upon the inscrutable face of Reid, determined yet seemingly going about his business as usual despite the camera.
The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is both a beautifully made and extremely important documentary. Whilst the case may well be known to some it is certainly a good opportunity for the public to understand what is going on. This is exemplified by a surprising and revealing piece of information towards the end of the film. How fair these processes are is an extremely important question to consider as more companies seek land to ‘provide us with thousands of jobs’ as it is put in this film. Ireland has some of the best documentary filmmakers in the world. This is in terms of technical skill but also digging deep into the story. Both of those skills are on show here, with a particularly wonderful final shot. See this film.