and something that the two communities for the next fifteen years,’ he says.
‘I guess when you’re making your first film. you go back to the things that have made such a strong impression on you, but I was always more interested in telling the story through personal experience than political polemic. That’s really why I’ve focused on the mothers of the hunger strikers. Imagine having the choice between life or death for your son. That’s the dilemma at the core of the film. As drama it’s up there with anything in Shakespeare or Greek tragedy, and there’s something there that everyone can understand, whether they’re aware of the political background or not.’
Having survived the fallout over the factual liberties taken with In The Name Of The Father. George describes his approach this time as ‘a compilation of the people involved which gives more of the overall picture than you’d have gotten from any one individual true-life story’.
He was unwilling to go to one of the actual families involved and put them through a harrowing experience all over again. Instead. he’s come up with a family — mother. son and daughter— mixed in with real-life names (Bobby Sands and Margaret Thatcher feature prominently) and fictionalised, but recognisable characters. Whatever the process, the film’s emotional impact is overwhelming.
Prime Suspect’s Helen Mirren is impressive as a law-abiding middle-class widow who has always avoided Northern Ireland’s death-dealing political machinations. Her detachment changes, however, when she has to face up to her son’s conviction for the IRA killing of a British soldier, then wait and worry when he joins the Republican hunger strike in the Maze prison.
Events take hold of her family’s fate. as her son is caught up in the battle of wills between the Thatcher administration and the IRA leadership. The strikers responded to the Govemment’s avowed policy of criminalisation - treating the terrorists like everyday crooks and murderers — by preparing to starve to death in the quest for special-category recognition. The seven-month strike claimed ten lives.
George's film primarily takes the mothers’ side. Some of them. like Mirren’s character. don’t sympathise with their offspring’s political aims and methods, yet offer support in their hour of need. Others (Fionnula Flanagan as a mum from a staunch Republican background), because they’re behind the cause, have little choice but to watch their nearest and dearest wither and die.
‘The thing about the hunger strikes was not that one party was wrong, but that everyone was so righteous from their own corner,’ reﬂects George. ‘That excluded the possibility for compromise. I was certainly aware of the martyr element that attached itself to Sands and the hunger strikers, and the distress and resentment that it caused in the Protestant community, for
instance. But I didn‘t really know how to alleviate that in a film.
’I’m from the Catholic side. It's my perspective on events and I’m not going to try and sell it as anything else. My hope is that people in the Protestant community in Ireland and in Britain will still go and see it. because the point is that whatever the ideological position. those involved are still some mother’s sons. I would hope that people would come out seeing
‘I don’t want to give the IRA any legitimacy, because the position I’ve held for a few years now is that, for some time past, their strategy has been totally wrong and immoral beyond belief.’
the human beings involved. because that’s how you get dialogue. That’s how you begin to find a solution to all this on apolitical level.‘
Undoubtedly. George will face. in the British media, the ingrained suspicion of anything that treats IRA combatants as human beings and shows the emotions behind one of the most famous Republican propaganda coups of recent years. What’s more. there’s George’s own prison record involving two spells in Long Kesh in the early 70s — once when he was interned without trial; another time when he was arrested in a car with members of splinter-group the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Ironically it was George’s time inside that set him on the road to better things. He did his A- levels in the Kesh. went on to a history and politics degree at Queen’s University, Belfast. then got out as swiftly as possible. In New York. the autobiographical play he wrote between
The word on the streets: Ila
SOME MOTHER’S SON FEATURE
freelance journalist assignments brought him together with Jim Sheridan at the Irish Drama Center. and a long-running creative partnership was formed.
George admits that moving to New York has allowed him a greater distance on events in Ulster. ‘I don‘t want to give the IRA any legitimacy. because the position I’ve held for a few years now is that. for some time past. their strategy has been totally wrong and immoral beyond belief.’ he says. “There’s an old Trotskyist maxim about the endsjustifying the means. but in this instance the means have so corrupted the ends. that the ends are no longer worth having. I tried to put some of that in the film and not simply let Sinn Fein off the hookf
The film is no IRA whitewash. Even this particular Proddy found himself rooting for Helen Mirren, who for all the love she shows her son. never once endorses the IRA cause or the violent methods involved in pursuing it. In fact. the movie gives a fairly trenchant analysis of the death-or-glory rhetoric that’s become a crucial part of the Republican cultural identity. and how it can spiral into a situation where new martyrs are always required to bank the fires of the propaganda machine. As we see Sinn Fein negotiating on the men’s behalf. it becomes apparent that it’s not really in the interest of the party’s media machine for the hunger strikers to stand down. They’re as much victims as anyone else.
George believes the film has much to contribute to the current so-called peace process. ‘If you look at the argument that developed over the prisoners’ Five Demands. it’s a mirror image of what’s going on today.’ he says, deflecting criticism that the film needlessly opens up old wounds. ‘You get the various sides trying to position themselves strategically to win through the definition of words.
‘I tried to make my point in the scene where the talks are breaking down. and suddenly you become aware that it’s just men in a room shouting at each other, while the women have to listen to this bullshit as their sons are dying next door. Ultimately, whatever anyone in the British press thinks, that’s the message of the ﬁlm.’ Some Mother's Son opens at the Cameo, Edinburgh, on Fri IO Jan and the Glasgow Film Theatre on Fri 3 I Jan.
Ion Miner: and Flonnula Flanagan In Some Mother’s Son
The List 10-23 Jan I997 25