Some Mother's Son (1996)



Director:     Terry George.

Starring:     Helen Mirren (proper schoolteacher), Fionnula Flanagan (the radical friend Annie), Aidan Gillen, David O'Hara, John Lynch, Tim Woodward.

The background is the 1981 hunger strike in British prison by 16 IRA in order to be treated as prisoners of war.  A prisoner's proper schoolteacher mother becomes involved: should she intervene and authorize force-feeding or not intervene and possibly let her son die? 



The school teacher (Helen Mirren) has been able to shut the "troubles" out of her.  She does not believe in violence and, therefore, on principle is opposed to I.R.A. violence.  She is so set in her attitude that she never has any inkling that her own son had joined the I.R.A.  Her son would not talk to her about his activity because she was just too opposed to the very idea of involvement with the I.R.A.

Another woman (Fionnula Flanagan), of a lesser social class standing, has already lost one son to the "troubles" and has another currently involved with the I.R.A.  The two women live in two totally different worlds. 

But then their two sons are involved in an I.R.A. attack, are arrested and sent to jail.  This event brings the two women together because they now suddenly have something in common.  One may be a near-pacifist while the other a soldier, but they both unite in the concern for their sons. 

Watching the women deal with the gradual starvation of their sons, as they join the hunger strike, and the larger issues involved, makes for fascinating viewing.  Men who can commit starve themselves to death for a cause gives some idea of the depth of these men's convictions, right or wrong. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1972 July  --  Secretary of State William Whitelaw grants special category status to all prisoners convicted of terrorist related crimes. This gives IRA prisoners the status of prisoners of war with the right not to wear prison uniforms or do prison work.

1975 January -- the British Gardiner Committee recommends ending the prisoner of war status for the IRA prisoners because it undermined discipline in the prisons. (What they really wanted was to stop the political activity among the IRA prisoners.)

1976 autumn --  new cellular prison accommodations ready to receive the IRA prisoners. Prisoner Kieran Nugent refuses to wear the prison uniform and wraps himself in the prison blanket (rather than remain naked), thereby giving birth to the blanket protest.

by 1978  -- almost 300 prisoners refusing to wear prison uniforms. But the protests don't have much political effect.

1978 March  --  the prisoners begin a no-wash protest (a.k.a. the dirty protest). They even put their waste on their cell walls. (The dirty protest ends March 2, 1981 when Bobby Sands begins his second hunger strike.)  The prisoners had five demands: the right to wear their own clothes; the right not to do prison work; the right to free association; the right to a weekly visit and to educational and recreational pursuits; and the full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

The Provisional IRA commander Brendan Hughes announces that seven men would begin a hunger strike to death until their demands were met.

1980 October 27  --  Brendan Hughes and six others refuse the prison food.

1980 autumn --  the Thatcher government only offers to let the prisoners wear civilian-type clothes. The prisoners reject it.

1980 December 1  --  three women prisoners at Armagh jail join the protest.

The Thatcher government says they are willing to compromise.  Fooled into thinking the government was acting in good faith, Hughes calls off the hunger strike after 53 days. (Prisoner Sean McKenna had been on the verge of death.) But there was no real compromise being offered and in the consequent disillusionment Bobby Sands becomes commander of the Provisional IRA at the Maze.  He makes plans for a second hunger strike. They stagger the dates of the beginning of the hunger strikes by the prisoners so that one prisoner a week would die. (The Army Council rejects the participation of Armagh women prisoners.)

1981 March 1  --  the second hunger strike begins with Bobby Sands the first to refuse food.

1981 March 5  --  the MP for Fermanagh and south Tyrone dies and Bobby Sands is nominated and subsequently wins the election. The election and hunger strike become world wide news.

1981 May 5  --  Bobby Sands dies after 66 days of the hunger strike; riots in Northern Ireland and street protests in many world cities follow.

1981 October 3  --  hunger strike ends; ten men had starved themselves to death.



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