A gathering of mostly Irish teenagers and young adults, stand on a street in Belfast, Northern Ireland, armed with rocks, bottles and sticks. They are frustrated and disheartened, at what they believe, is the illegitimate occupying presence of the British Army. Mayhem ensues, between a small group of British soldiers, who have the overwhelming advantage with their machine guns and a tank versus the assembled protesters. After some back and forth, one of the soldiers trips, and the machine gun he’s armed with, rips a hail of bullets into the crowd. The soldier should have never had live ammunition in his gun in the first place, because all of the soldiers were instructed by their commander during the chaos, to use rubber bullets. While most of the protesters run to safety, several people do lay dead in the street.
Two of the deceased are innocent bystanders, Maureen (Diana Fairfax) and Angie (Patsy Kensit) Hennessy. The two females, are the wife and daughter of Niall Hennessy, who is portrayed in the film by Oscar winner Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night). Steiger completely embodies the role of the grieving husband and father, but in a subdued manner as opposed to over the top histrionics. Prior to the incident, Hennessy, who is a demolitions expert, and has ties to the IRA (Irish Republican Army), was approached by the organization to transport explosives to a location for use against the British Army. Hennessy refused the job, because he wants to live a life of peace. As he mourns the loss of his wife and daughter, he abandons his earlier mindset and begins to formulate a plan of revenge.
Opting not to involve the IRA, Hennessy leaves Belfast and flies to London. His plan is to bring the British government to a violent end by blowing up parliament while Queen Elizabeth II is giving a speech. As the film progresses, his plan is learned by members of the IRA. They want to stop him, just as much, if not more so, than British law enforcement. The leader of the IRA, Sean Tobin, played by BAFTA winner Eric Porter (The Forsyte Saga), fears that the struggle for Irish independence will be stopped for decades if Hennessy succeeds. In addition to members of the IRA, the British Special Branch have been alerted to Hennessy’s plan. The head of Special Branch, Commander Rice, portrayed by Emmy winner Trevor Howard (Invincible Mr. Disraeli), assigns Inspector Hollis (Richard Johnson) to stop Hennessy.
While in London, Steiger gathers information regarding the members of parliament and the layout of the buildings in which parliament meets, as well as, securing the pieces for the bomb he is making. Hennessy needs a place to stay and calls upon Kate Brooke. The role of Brooke is acted by BAFTA winner Lee Remick (Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill). She is the widow of an IRA soldier. Her husband and Hennessy were good friends. Although, she is no longer in contact with members of the IRA and wants to live a life of peace, she agrees to let him stay with her. As the film progresses, it turns into a cat and mouse game, where Hennessy deftly stays ahead of both the IRA and British Special Branch, while waiting for the moment when he can exact his revenge.
“Hennessy” premiered on July 31, 1975, in New York City, New York. The film was directed by Don Sharp (Act of Will) and written for the screen by Oscar nominee John Gay (Separate Tables), based on an original story by the aforementioned Richard Johnson (The Haunting). Parts action, drama and thriller, it has a runtime of a 103 minutes.
Trivia buffs take note: Fans of three time Emmy nominee Patrick Stewart, known globally for portraying Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Professor Charles Xavier in a number of the “X-Men” movies, has a small part in the film as an IRA soldier named Tilney. When the movie was originally released it garnered some controversy with the Royal Family. The reason for this, is that the film, seamlessly intercuts real news footage with footage shot for the film. The producer of the film Samuel Z. Arkoff, had to place a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie which stated that the Royal Family had not participated in the making of the film.
For those of you who are fans of Rod Steiger and have not seen the movie, as well as those of you who don’t mind a dated 1970s, however, no lees absorbing thriller, the film should hold your interest.