Baltimore (2023)

Baltimore (misleading title) is a biopic of the life of revolutionary class warrior Rose Dugdale in Ireland, written and directed by husband-and-wife team Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor.

The Lady Wanted To Go To Baltimore

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Rose Dugdale died on 18 March 2024 in an Irish nursing home for retired nuns, aged 82. She was a notorious figure in the ‘70s, and her death may be why Baltimore has been rush-released.

Timely and fascinating Baltimore tells Rose Dugdale’s story (magnificently played by Imogen Poots) from girlhood to her arrest in 1974. It’s based on true events – the score by Stephen McKeon ratchets up the tension.

Dugdale came originally from a very wealthy, privileged family in England, a background the film states she felt no connection with from an early age. After being presented at court as a debutante, PPE at Oxford and a Master’s in Philosophy in the US, she became a Marxist, gave her money away, and lived as a revolutionary IRA activist.

As part of her rampage against the rich in the 1970s, when this well-made, low-budget film is set, she headed a violent raid to steal 19 priceless paintings from art collector Sir Alfred Belt and his wife’s (John Kavanagh and Andrea Irvine) opulent mansion in Wicklow. This made headlines and prompted nationwide police hunts by the Gardai as Dugdale hid in a remote cottage.

Triggered by the shameful events of Bloody Sunday, Dugdale’s idea was to hold the paintings to ransom, gain huge amounts of money to support the IRA and repatriate the Price sisters, who were on hunger strike in prison in England. But the film represents the endeavour as amateurish and botched. (Baltimore in Cork is where the IRA ‘safe house’ is in the film.)

Baltimore, written and directed by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, is non-linear, cutting to and fro in time to explain Dugdale’s radicalisation and actions. There are also fantasy sequences.

But Baltimore cannot make her likeable, or gain our sympathy for her on a personal level (boyfriend Eddie, Jack Meade), despite showing behaviour to make her more sympathetic eg pregnancy. And why was she apparently unquestioned as being in command of an IRA group and able to order the experienced members about? Was this entitlement and accepted status another aspect of the very class system that she fought against?

In pursuit of her ideals and hatred of injustice, she committed cold-blooded atrocities. But British/Irish/colonial/EU politics are different now. Rose Dugdale lived in interesting times, important to both Northern Ireland’s and Ireland’s history.

Baltimore screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 22 March 2024 in the UK.

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