Five Minutes of Heaven

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Five Minutes of Heaven
Five minutes of heaven.jpg
Promotional film poster
Directed byOliver Hirschbiegel
Written byGuy Hibbert
Produced byEoin O'Callaghan
Stephen Wright
CinematographyRuairi O'Brien
Edited byHans Funck
Music byDavid Holmes
Big Fish Films
Element Pictures
Ruby Films
Distributed byBBC Television (United Kingdom)
IFC Films (United States)
Pathé (worldwide)
Release dates
  • 19 January 2009 (2009-01-19) (Sundance)
  • 27 February 2009 (2009-02-27) (Ireland)
Running time
90 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$87,906[1]

Five Minutes of Heaven is a 2009 Irish film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a script by Guy Hibbert. The film was premiered on 19 January 2009 at the 25th Sundance Film Festival[2] where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award for Oliver Hirschbiegel, and the World Cinema Screenwriting Award for Guy Hibbert.[3] As a television film it was broadcast on BBC Two on 5 April 2009, and also had an international feature film release.

The first part reconstructs the historical killing of 19-year-old Jim Griffin by 17-year-old Alistair Little in 1975, and the second part depicts a fictional meeting between Little and Griffin's brother Joe 33 years later.


In Lurgan, Northern Ireland, during 1975 and the Northern Irish Troubles, the Irish Republican Army are targeting loyalists; in turn, the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force are exacting revenge on Catholics they claim are militant republicans. Alistair Little, 17, is the leader of a UVF cell, eager to let blood. He and his gang are given the go-ahead to kill a young Catholic man, James Griffin, as a reprisal and a warning to others. When they kill Griffin, his 8-year old little brother, Joe watches in horror. Little is arrested and sentenced to prison for 12 years.

In 2008—thirty-three years after the murder and nineteen years after Little is released from prison—Little and Griffin have been set up to meet on camera by a reconciliation project. Little has served his sentence and peace has been agreed to in Northern Ireland, but Joe Griffin is not coming on the programme for a handshake. He is carrying a knife and intends to murder his brother's killer during the meeting. However, just before he is to go on camera, he becomes extremely agitated and demands that the cameras be removed. When the producers try to calm him, he leaves, and the two men do not meet.

Little offers to meet Griffin, and Griffin accepts. Griffin asks Little to meet him at Griffin's childhood home, now abandoned and boarded up, where Little murdered his brother. As Griffin reaches for the knife before the meeting, his wife tries to stop him, but he pushes her to the floor. At the meeting, Griffin, full of hate and wanting vengeance, attacks Little from behind and attempts to stab him. In the struggle, they fall through a second story window. Both are hurt. Little tells Griffin that he is leaving for Belfast. He explains why he killed Griffin's brother. He tells Griffin to "get rid of me", to tell his family that he has killed Little and to live his life for them, not for vengeance.

Griffin very shakily lights up a cigarette as Little pulls himself from the wall he was sitting against and limps down the road. Soon after, Griffin attends a therapy group and tells them, crying, that he wants to be a good father for his daughters. He calls Little and tells him, "We're finished." Little appears happy and befuddled, not quite sure what to do next.


(in order of appearance)


Five Minutes of Heaven was originally commissioned by BBC Four, as Hibbert did not want television executives to interfere with the script. BBC Four abandoned the project when they could not provide a bigger budget. To get more money for the film, independent production company Big Fish Films brought in other financial backers, including Northern Ireland Screen, and the film was eventually commissioned by Controller of BBC Two Roly Keating, and BBC Controller of Fiction Jane Tranter.[4][5]

Filming took place on location in Belfast, Dundonald, Lurgan, Glenarm and Newtownards for four weeks from May to June 2008.[5][6][7] Nesbitt met Griffin before filming began but Neeson decided to wait until after it had concluded before meeting Little; he said "I didn't want to see him before because I didn't want to be reminded of the physical differences between us and I didn't want to get that cluttered up in my head."[7][8]

This was also the first time that two of Northern Ireland's top actors, Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, had starred in a film together.


Five Minutes of Heaven premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival on 19 January 2009. It won in the World Cinema Directed Award: Dramatic, and World Cinema Screenwriting Award categories.[9] It received its Irish premiere at the 2009 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival on 21 February 2009.[8] A screening was given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London on 23 March 2009. It was followed by a question-and-answer session with Hirschbiegel, Hibbert and Nesbitt.[10] It was broadcast on BBC Two in England, Scotland and Wales on 5 April 2009 and on BBC One Northern Ireland on 13 April.[11] Pathé holds worldwide theatrical distribution rights.[12]

IFC Films signed a deal to distribute the film in the United States from August 2009, theatrically, through its video on demand service, and exclusively through Blockbuster retailers.[13] The film opened at the Angelika Film Center in New York on 21 August 2009.[14] It took $5,200 in box office receipts on its first weekend.[15]


Two men in a black suits.
Neeson and Nesbitt in January 2008

The film received positive reviews from film critics. As of June 2020, the film holds a 75% approval rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 44 reviews with an average rating of 6.56 out of 10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Oliver Hirschbiegel's dramatic take on "The Troubles" is an actor's showcase—and Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt are more than up to the challenge."[16] The film also won the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

After Five Minutes of Heaven's Sundance screenings, Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter called it "very good at stating the obvious but fails to bring new insight to this age-old morality tale". He cited the scenes featuring Mark Davison (as the young Little) and Anamaria Marinca (as a television producer) as "the only time the movie sparks to life".[17] Dennis Harvey for Variety was complimentary of Hibbert's screenplay and of Neeson's acting.[12]

Padraic Geoghegan of RTÉ Entertainment criticized the lack of screen-time given to Griffin's family, and for not showing how Little came to be helping others like him in the present-day scenes. Geoghegan praised the flashback scenes, Hirschbeigel's direction, and Neeson and Nesbitt's acting.[18] The Irish Times' Michael Dwyer rated the film four out of five stars. Of the acting, he wrote,

Nesbitt vividly portrays Griffin as a man still coiled with rage and horror by indelible memories of a living nightmare when he was a boy. And Neeson’s haunted features reveal the guilt and pain Little has carried since he committed his terrible crime.[19]

Andrew Johnston for Culture Northern Ireland wrote,

Unlike some other Ulster-set pictures, Five Minutes of Heaven presents real people with real emotions, rather than political caricatures or slavish impersonations. There’s a slight sense that most of the budget went on securing Neeson, but the minimalist soundtrack, grotty colour scheme and amateurish fight scenes help underline the emptiness of the lead characters and the desolation of their predicament.[20]


Year Award Category Nominee Result
2009 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema, Directed: Dramatic Oliver Hirschbiegel Won[9]
World Cinema, Screenwriting Guy Hibbert Won[9]
Grand Jury Prize Oliver Hirschbiegel Nominated[9]
2010 Irish Film and Television Academy Awards Single Drama/Drama Serial Eoin O'Callaghan Won[21]
Actor in a Lead Role: Television Liam Neeson Nominated[21]
Director of Photography Ruairí O'Brien Nominated[21]
Royal Television Society Programme Awards Best Single Drama Five Minutes of Heaven Won[22]
Best Writer (Drama) Guy Hibbert Nominated[22]
Broadcasting Press Guild Awards Best Single Drama Five Minutes of Heaven Nominated[23]
Best Actor James Nesbitt Nominated[24]
British Academy Television Craft Awards Writer Guy Hibbert Won[25]
British Academy Television Awards Best Single Drama Guy Hibbert, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Eoin O'Callaghan, Stephen Wright Nominated[26]


  1. ^ "Five Minutes of Heaven". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) Release Info". IMDb. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  3. ^ "Awards for Five Minutes of Heaven". IMDb. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  4. ^ Hemley, Matthew (5 March 2009). "Hibbert criticises commissioners for wielding too much power". The Stage Online. Retrieved on 21 March 2009.
  5. ^ a b Holmwood, Leigh (8 May 2008). "Nesbitt and Neeson set for Ulster drama". (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved on 8 May 2008.
  6. ^ Staff (20 February 2009). "Stars 'change sides' for Troubles film". The News Letter (Johnston Press).
  7. ^ a b McLean, Craig (30 March 2009). "Liam Neeson interview - on his role in 'Five Minutes of Heaven'". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group).
  8. ^ a b Coleman, Maureen (21 February 2009). "Neeson and Nesbitt: the real-life bravery behind our new Troubles drama". Belfast Telegraph (Independent News and Media (Northern Ireland)).
  9. ^ a b c d McCarthy, Todd (24 January 2009). "'Push' wins big at Sundance Awards". Variety (Reed Business Information).
  10. ^ "Access All Areas: March 2009". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved on 1 April 2009.
  11. ^ "BBC Two Programmes: Five Minutes of Heaven". BBC Online. Retrieved on 24 August 2009.
  12. ^ a b Harvey, Dennis (21 January 2009). "Five Minutes of Heaven Movie Review From The Sundance Film Festival". Variety (Reed Business Media). Archived 2 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Kay, Jeremy (8 May 2009). "IFC takes US rights to drama Five Minutes Of Heaven". (Emap Media). Retrieved on 8 May 2009.
  14. ^ Staff (24 August 2009). "Goings on About Town: Movies". New Yorker. Retrieved on 25 August 2009.
  15. ^ DiOrio, Carl (23 August 2009). "'Basterds' wins weekend". The Hollywood Reporter (Nielsen Business Media). Retrieved on 24 August 2009.
  16. ^ "Five Minutes of Heaven". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  17. ^ Honeycutt, Kirk (20 January 2009). "Film Review: Five Minutes of Heaven". The Hollywood Reporter (Nielsen Business Media).
  18. ^ Geoghegan, Padraic (26 February 2009). "Five Minutes of Heaven". RTÉ Entertainment. Retrieved on 21 March 2009.
  19. ^ Dwyer, Michael (27 February 2009). "Five Minutes of Heaven". The Irish Times.
  20. ^ Johnston, Andrew (26 February 2009). "Film Review: Five Minutes of Heaven Archived 28 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine". Culture Northern Ireland. Retrieved on 21 March 2009.
  21. ^ a b c "Winners of the 7th Annual Irish Film & Television Awards". Irish Film & Television Awards. Retrieved on 21 February 2010.
  22. ^ a b Silverstein, Adam (17 March 2010). "The RTS Programme Awards 2009: The Winners". Digital Spy. Retrieved on 17 March 2010.
  23. ^ "36th Annual Awards: Best Single Drama". Broadcasting Press Guild. Retrieved on 17 February 2010.
  24. ^ "36th Annual Awards: Best Actor". Broadcasting Press Guild. Retrieved on 17 February 2010.
  25. ^ "Television Craft Awards Nominations in 2010 Archived 13 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved on 27 April 2010.
  26. ^ "Television Awards Nominations in 2010 Archived 27 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved on 10 May 2010.

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