Without having read Stakeknife – Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland written by Greg Harkin and Martin Ingram it would have proved more difficult to understand Kari Skogland’s thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008) about Ireland between 1988 and 1991 in a period of Irish history known universally as The Troubles. Stakeknife is an expose of how British Military Intelligence recruited undercover informants via the British Force Research Unit to work for both the IRA and the Unionist organisations. Most notoriously for the ‘Nutting Squad’, which was the IRA’s internal security force that allegedly tortured and killed around 40 suspected informers. Therefore these people were murdered under the direct influence of the British Government!
The movie tends to cover much the same ground as the Harkin/Ingram book, but is based on a loose adaptation of Martin McGartland’s 1997 autobiography. McGarland was a petty crook recruited by a British agent known as Fergus who becomes his handler (a not particularly convincing Ben Kingsley) to infiltrate the Republican Army. At first McGarland does not take his new role seriously but the deeper he gets involved the more it affects his own life and the lives of the people around him including his girlfriend Lara (Natalie Press) and their baby.
The film takes its name from McGartland's claim, within his book, to have saved the lives of fifty people including police officers, soldiers, and prison guards during his time as an British informant. Thirty six year old British actor and singer Jim Sturgess, who has regularly appeared on TV and in feature films since 1994, gives a credible performance as the double agent. The biggest problem with this film, along side its rather complicated proceeding’s, is the sound, which makes it very difficult at times to understand what is being said, and the old faithful undertitles were not available on the copy I watched!