Directed by: Stephen Burke – Starring: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Martin McCann, Eileen Walsh, Aaron Monaghan, Niamh McGrady, Ross McKinney
It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up to the 20 year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but we are. And with that anniversary looming, the Troubles are inevitably being examined in a more sympathetic light.
Rather than apportioning blame, people are trying to find the human stories behind the horror. That is what this film attempts to do here, as it tells the true story of the escape of 38 IRA prisoners from the extremely high security Maze prison in 1983.
This is a story that has never really been touched on, other than in documentary, and was somewhat overshadowed by the hunger strikes which preceded it. However, it was the biggest prison escape in Europe since World War II, and it was apparently the brainchild of one man, Larry Marley. Presumably this is why he is the focus of this feature. He is played here by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who swaps the flat Dublin drawl of Love/Hate for a Northern Irish lilt. Writer/director Burke explores the build up to the escape, and the event itself, painting Marley as a man determined to avenge his friends who died in the hunger strike.
When you think of a prison-break, you think of an action packed adventure. However, this movie spends a lot of time reinforcing the cunning that it took on the part of Larry and his collaborators to plan their escape. As such, it doesn’t move quickly, which I assumed was to increase the impact of the actual escape when it happened.
Unfortunately, the payoff for our patience is disappointing. Rather than 25 minutes of derring-do and tension, we get around 10 minutes of people skulking around and watching the clock. The only tension is built by the unexpected arrival of a warden that was supposed to be off, but even this never raises it to high drama.
This is superbly acted, and beautifully shot, to truly convey the claustrophobic environment of prison. It is also an interesting story. However, it could have been more dramatic and exciting, without being disrespectful to either side.
For a film made on a minimal budget, it is a fantastic accomplishment, but the underdevelopment of most of the characters, and the steady pacing, mean it never really elevates beyond a made for TV movie. This is a shame, as there are some beautifully written scenes, and there is a huge amount of potential here.
It is worth a look as a reminder of this largely forgotten incident, but it is not as exciting as the promotional material implies.
In Cinemas September 22nd!