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O'Connell Sr had come to England from Kerry in the 1970s and lived in Shepherd's Bush before moving to the Midlands to work on the railways.While his work schedule was "unrelenting", he still liked the pub and was part of Derby's burgeoning Northern Soul scene.He's a tough boy, but he's mainly terrified, lost and at the mercy of others.He's a spiritually and physically wounded lad, hunted by the republicans and abandoned by an army that's been chewing up and spitting out young working-class men like him for centuries.Born and brought up in Derby, his identity is rooted in that city.From a working-class family, his father Johnny, who was Irish, "prided himself on being ordinary which, where I'm from, is quite an extreme achievement".The film's title comes from the year it is set, when, strikingly, young men on all sides were committing record-levels of violence.
In 2008, at the age of 58, O'Connell's father died quickly of pancreatic cancer and his young son was left as the man of the house and the sole breadwinner.
Even after he'd been in This is England, O'Connell would have to sleep rough on park benches in London in order to go to auditions.
"There are so many working-class people around the world, that the idea of us being set against each other is inhumane and absurd.
Like so many Irish families, O'Connell's has historical experience of conflict with the British, but it wasn't until he started "picking brains" in the run-up to filming '71 that he found out exactly what that experience was.
He discovered that his great-grandfather had housed Irish Republican fighters on his farm.