Resurrection Man is a British film directed by Marc Evans and released in 1998. It stars Stuart Townsend as Victor Kelly, John Hannah as Darkie, James Nesbitt as Ryan and Brenda Fricker as Dorcas. The screenplay of Resurrection Man was written by Eoin McNamee and drawn from his 1994 novel of the same name.
The film is set in Belfast in the mid-1970s, though it was shot in cities in northern England. The plot and characters are loosely based on Lenny Murphy, leader of the ‘Shankill Butchers’. Active in Belfast between 1975 and 1982, Murphy and his gang were responsible for at least two dozen killings. Most of their victims were Catholics with no political or paramilitary affiliation. Most were killed with knives or bludgeons and some were tortured. Murphy was an Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) member who claimed to be politically motivated – but many believe he was a psychopath who exploited the lawlessness of the Troubles.
The lead character in Resurrection Man is Victor Kelly. Like Lenny Murphy, Kelly is a Belfast Protestant with a Catholic surname. This earns him jibes and beatings from his fellow Protestants.
Kelly acquires a pathological hatred of Catholics, as well as an addiction to cocaine. When Kelly participates in the torture and murder of a Catholic prisoner, he comes to the attention of Loyalist paramilitary commander Sammy McClure. Encouraged by McClure, Kelly continues his anti-Catholic killing spree. He is arrested by police but escapes conviction after smothering his accomplice – and the only eyewitness to the crime – in prison.
After his release, Kelly continues his killing spree, this time with greater violence and sadism. Now frustrated with Kelly’s erratic and uncontrollable behaviour, Loyalist bosses order his demise. Kelly is shot dead by unnamed gunmen, presumably members of the Provisional IRA, while visiting his mother.
Resurrection Man is a brutal and confronting film that contains scenes of graphic violence. As a depiction of the Troubles, it has negligible value. Belfast’s political and sectarian divisions are never discussed and only mentioned as a pretext for killing. Townsend’s Kelly is too crazed and frenetic to constitute a pastiche of Lenny Murphy. The film’s Loyalist paramilitaries are simplistically portrayed as apolitical and amoral.
Resurrection Man is essentially a nihilistic slasher film occupying 1970s Belfast as a context and exploiting the mayhem of the Troubles. Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s 1995 film Nothing Personal offers a much stronger film depiction of Loyalist paramilitary groups and violence.