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From Black Watch to Black Hawk Down in Ulster ... Scots playwright takes on Hollywood

IT'S Black Hawk Down set at the height of the Ulster Troubles, with British squaddies instead of US special forces.

The film, 71, written by acclaimed Scottish dramatist Gregory Burke, who created the multi-award-winning play Black Watch, is to premier at the Berlin International Film Festival this week.

Set in 1970s Belfast, when the Troubles reduced Northern Ireland to a state of chaos, it will be one of just two British films in competition and will be shown alongside George Clooney's The Monuments Men, Christopher Gans's La Belle et la Bete and Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. Directed by Yann Demange, who directed Channel 4's acclaimed Top Boy, 71 tells the story of a young soldier abandoned by his unit after a riot on the streets of Belfast. Over the course of a night the soldier, Gary, must find his way to safety through a hostile landscape.

Black Hawk Down sees a US special forces team member trapped behind enemy lines in the so-called Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.

The new film will be controversial - at least in Northern Ireland. Any film that deals with the Ulster Troubles immediately causes controversy there, with both sides in the still-rumbling conflict seeing it as trashing or supporting their political position.

The film was the brainchild of Angus Lamont, of Glasgow-based Crab Apple Films, who co-produced 71 with Robin Gutch. Lamont said: "71 was an idea I came up with and I developed the idea with Gregory writing. It's a thriller set in 1971. A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit and must follow a route out of the streets of Belfast. So it's about him trying to get to safety over the course of one night. He's confused by the environment and knows nothing about the situation or where he is.

He added: "He's just trying to survive, and through that he finds out a little bit more about Belfast. But he knows nothing about sectarianism. The thing about using that type of place, that environment, is that he has the same point of view as the audience - he doesn't know the environment. Most people outside of the country don't really know much about the background."

Jack O'Connell, who is currently shooting the Angelina Jolie film Unbroken, takes the lead role of Gary. He is best known for playing teen psychopaths and villains in films such as Harry Brown, Tower Block and Eden Lake.

Despite sensitivities around the backdrop of the Troubles, Lamont said the movie is not a history lesson. "I don't know what people are going to say about it, how they are going to receive it, until they see it."

The movie, financed by Film4, BFI, Screen Yorkshire and Creative Scotland, was filmed last year between April and May in Sheffield, Blackburn and Liverpool.

The Berlin Film Festival, which runs from February 6 to 16, opens with Wes Anderson's comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, set in the 1920s and starring Ralph Fiennes.

British filmmaker Ken Loach is to be awarded an honorary Golden Bear for his 50 years in the film industry. He turned down an OBE in 1977 but was awarded the Bafta Fellowship in 2006.

Burke's tour de force Black Watch has now played to more than 212,000 people on four continents and won 22 awards. Premiered by the National Theatre of Scotland at the Edinburgh Fringe, it has been a critical hit from New York to Seoul.

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