The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is A Quietly Sinister Look at Modern Ireland

There is something oddly soothing about watching someone work. Perhaps, its the satisfaction of seeing a task completed without having to make any of the effort. Such is the first twenty minutes of new Irish documentary The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid. We follow the titular character as he maintains his 72 acre farm in Leixlip, Kildare – in his family for generations – feeding his herd, watering his crops, cleaning clumps of mud from his gates. Almost ethnographic in nature, it’s a tranquil, fascinating glimpse into the existence of those maintaining a traditional, more rural approach to life in certain parts of Ireland.

However, it isn’t long before modernity comes knocking on Thomas Reid’s door in the form of IDA Ireland – a non-commercial semi-state body promoting foreign direct investment. The group want to secure the farmer’s 72 acres, believing it would lure pharmaceutical and tech companies into the country.

After Reid consistently rejects offers for his land of up to €10 million – refusing to even entertain the notion – the IDA hit the farmer with a Compulsory Purchase Order, a right by statutory bodies to acquire property without the consent of the owner if it is for the public’s greater good. The film follows the quiet Reid as he fights alone to protect his land in the courts.

As the film progresses, it mutates from a nature-focused documentary into a Kafka-esque nightmare about a man minding his own business, suddenly plunged into a situation seemingly beyond his control. At one point, the typically quiet, stoic Reid in a moment of vulnerability asks “Why me?” and it’s impossible not to empathise with the man falling victim to a changing Ireland

At the heart of Thomas Reid is a clash between an old way of life and modernity, the latter represented by the IDA and neighbouring international companies to Reid such as Intel. It seems the farmer is not the only one affected by the changing landscape. As Reid and various talking heads heard in voiceover throughout the film explain, animals in the area have been dying. Although the exact reasons are unclear, suggestions put forward include rising CO2 levels.

In a stunning sequence – breaking the documentary form – director Feargal Ward shoots the farmer doing his weekly shop at Tesco. There, he is confronted with his face on a dozen television screens, representing the man becoming stuck in the modern age.

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That said the film is not wholly one-sided, at least entertaining the notion put forward by the IDA. On radios in Reid’s house, we hear spokespeople explain that more direct investment could lead to thousands of jobs in construction and hundreds more in the foreign companies’ plants after they are built. Also, at one point an expert describes the products being made by businesses such as Intel, stating they are changing lives across the world for the better.

However, the film’s stance is very much with Thomas Reid, believing that if the state can take land off one person to attract businesses, how long will it be until its an apartment block of people evicted to make way for a supermarket – a growing practice in the US.

While ultimately a documentary about the power of the individual – viewers will punch the air at the use of Twisted Sisters’  ‘We’re Not Going to Take It’ in the closing moments – the viewer is left with a queasy feeling. The power wielded by the State under the guise of protecting the public can easily be warped and used against the people they serve.

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is out now.


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