press reactions

michael blowen/boston globe
"While NBC markets itself as 'Must See' TV, FRONTLINE is more deserving of that moniker. The ambitious nonfiction series continues on a high note with "Behind the Mask: the IRA and Sinn Fein," two compelling hours on the complex interrelationship of the Irish Republican Army and its political wing, Sinn Fein, with the various branches of the United States government and the British.

"BBC reporter Peter Taylor, who's covered the conflict in Northern Ireland since the early '70s and wrote a book called Behind the Mask, has managed to do what so many FRONTLINE specials do--he clarifies a story of immense complexity without oversimplification.

"Through interviews with participants on all sides and vintage footage, Taylor creates a multifaceted portrait of three nations--Ireland , Britain, and the United States--that have a vested interests in solving a problem sunk deep into the Irish soil."

joanne ostrow/denver post
"Rather than evaluate political possibilities for the future, tonight's probing two-hour effort looks back to fill in the bloody 30-year history. "Behind the Mask: the IRA and Sinn Fein," often depressing, sometimes enraging chronicle of the movement.

"Peter Taylor, who has spent decades covering the conflict for the BBC, and the FRONTLINE crew gets inside the IRA. The two hours overflow with remarkable (often sympathetic) scenes of bomb-making lessons, street violence, the hunger strikes, the endless funerals and testimony about the IRA's reliance on American guns and money.

"Thanks to FRONTLINE and Taylor, distant observers will have a fuller understanding of the conflict, Adams' background, and that of the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein. Viewers will gain a sense of context from tonight's broadcast, but still won't hear much from the British."

bob longino/atlanta constitution
"FRONTLINE bloody: FRONTLINE. The PBS documentary series takes on Northern Ireland's war--the frequently used phrase "the troubles" seems like a mockery--in a new two-hour BBC special "Behind the Mask: the IRA and Sinn Fein.

"Despite yet another new round of peace talks between the Irish and the British, it is a story with no end, no closure, no justice and no peace. Just plenty of casualties.

"What's the extraordinary about Taylor's reporting is how many members of the notoriously secretive IRA and Sinn Fein (the more open political arm of the IRA) he has persuaded to appear on camera. He is sympathetic to the IRA only insofar as he allows them to defend their cause, which they do with fervor and conviction.

"But this is not myth-making on the order of Liam Neeson's movie "Michael Collins." It is real, and it is disheartening."

robert connolly/boston sunday herald
"The tentative conclusion of a fascinating new documentary that traces the intertwined history and development of the Irish Republican Army and its political partner, Sinn Fein, is that after nearly three decades, the IRA's 'Long War' is over.

"If it is 'over,' the FRONTLINE production may well become the definitive documentary history of the IRA's epic struggle that began as an effort to defend an under-siege Catholic community but quickly escalated into a death match attempt to end unionist and British rule in Northern Ireland."

wlater goodman/new york times
"Moving carefully through the minefields of who, at bottom, is to blame for the mayhem and murder recorded in tonight's newsreels, the program concentrates on IRA tactics over the years. It is reported by Peter Taylor, a BBC correspondent and author of a new book, Behind the Mask: The I.R.A. and Sinn Fein, a title that FRONTLINE borrows.

"American viewers ought to be interested and possibly concerned over confirmation here that the IRA received substantial amounts of arms (some probably stolen from military bases) from the United States.

"If the program seems tilted in favor of those whose tactics included killing civilians, that is due less to overt editorial judgments than to the nature of the report. Taking off the masks and showing the faces of IRA bombers and their families can't help but make them seem more human as they explain why they felt they had no choice but to respond to British power by committing what were widely denounced as 'outrages.'"

steve johnson/chicago tribune
"This edition of the great documentary series, titled Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein...offers confused Americans a two-hour guide to the strands in the tangled web of Northern Ireland, and it does it at a propitious time. Peace talks are beginning, and Gerry Adams, the leader of the IRA political arm Sinn Fein, has been welcomed on these shores not as the terrorist Irish Protestants consider him but as a statesman. And the new British government, of course, has followed suit, welcoming Sinn Fein into talks. This co-production with the BBC talks to many of the key participants, taking advantage of BBC correspondent Peter Taylor's quarter-century of covering what are euphemistically known as 'the troubles.' It is an engrossing and wrenching tale of a nation divided within itself along lines of religion, of young men high on revolution and weaponry, of a British military in an unwinnable war. "

eric mink/ny daily news
"Watching tonight's FRONTLINE special on Sinn Fein and the IRA, you start to wonder if anything has happened since The Troubles began 30 years ago that was not captured on film or video tape.

"Indeed, one of the great strengths of tonight's exhaustively detailed two hour documentary, produced by Andrew Williams and reported by Peter Taylor for FRONTLINE and the BBC is that cameras seem to have been present at every secret meeting, at every training session, at every bomb explosion, in every prison and at every violent confrontation on every street in every town, village and cemetery in Northern Ireland since 1969.

"That's not the case, of course, but it's a happy accident --for visual historians, that is--that the political, religious, economic and social battle over Northern Ireland has coincided with the coming of age of TV news. The wealth of relevant visuals in tonight's program is impressive.

"Yes, if "Behind the Mask" were merely a kind of moving-picture book of the times, its worth would be extremely limited. It is, in fact, considerably more than that. It is a densely packed two-hour history that tries hard to separate hard facts from sheer speculation and to shape the information with as much perspective and insight as hindsight allows.

"Williams and Taylor deserve enormous credit for refusing to romanticize any aspects of the story or any of the participants. Even in his interviews with mothers of dead IRA members, Taylor never loses his focus: Whatever the motives , actions have consequences for which individuals are responsible."

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