Sunday, April 19, 2009


Based on actual events

On December 6, 1922 the entire island of Ireland became the Irish Free State. As such Ireland was granted dominion status within the British Empire equal to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Two days later Northern Ireland opted out of the Irish Free State in order to establish a republican form of government completely independent from Britain.

The Provisional Irish Republican Army took up the struggle to end British rule in Ireland and according to its constitution, "to establish an Irish Socialist Republic, based on the Proclamation of 1916”. By this they sought to end the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and bring about a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion. As such the IRA is classified as a terrorist group in the United Kingdom and as an illegal organization in what is today the Republic of Ireland, better known simply as Ireland.

In July 1972 all prisoners convicted of terrorist crimes were granted Special Category status, effectively treating them as a prisoner of war having some of the privileges for POW’s as specified in the Geneva Convention. This meant prisoners did not have to wear prison uniforms nor do prison work, were housed together with their comrades, were allowed extra visits and food parcels. Four years later the British Government rescinded this special status.

The immediate response of the Republican prisoners was the so-called “blanket protest” whereby they refused to wear prison-issue clothing and wore blankets instead. Two years later this escalated into the “dirty protest” with the prisoners refusing to wash themselves and smeared the walls of their cells with their own excrement and spilled their chamber pots under the cell door into the hallway. All uneaten food was dumped into a rotting pile of refuse.

Stuart Graham: Ray Lohan, guard at the Maze Prison
Brian Milligan: IRA member, Davey Gillen
Liam McMahon: his cellmate Gerry Campbell
Michael Fassbender: 27-year-old Bobby Sands
Liam Cunningham: Father Dominic Moran

A well crafted movie has a beginning, a middle and an end. This film has no beginning as such. So unless you are a scholar familiar with the Irish “troubles” (or take the time to read the F.Y.I. above) for quite some while you will be totally lost trying to figure out just what is going on. The absence of any real dialogue for the first half of the movie doesn’t help either so for 45 minutes or so you can only guess at what it is all about.

About mid-way though there is a riveting 20-minute, single-camera, single-take conversation between Sands and a priest during which time he explains that the protests so far have not resulted in bringing attention to the extraordinarily harsh conditions in which he and his fellow prisoners are subject to nor to regain their status as political prisoners. Finally we find out what the movie is all about.

Relying on the visual element more than the spoken word there are extremely long takes of a jail guard methodically brushing away urine from a hallway or watching a fly crawling across a prisoner’s hand. Not having the patience to sit for minutes on end through these episodes several times I was about to leave. Some people did.

for disturbing images, explicit portrayals of violence, full frontal nudity, and language.

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