Some Mother’s Son: The 1981 Belfast Prison Hunger Strike

Some Mother's Son Movie ReviewIn celebration of St. Patrick’s Day 2015, ATG is exploring “All Things Irish” for the next couple weeks. Below we review the Irish movie “Some Mother’s Son.” Stay tuned for more! 

It was with a faint memory of the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland that I recently watched Some Mother’s Son* (1996) – a movie based on the true story of the young IRA (Irish Republican Army) martyrs who began a hunger strike while being held in a British prison in Belfast for their involvement in IRA terrorist activities.

Refusing to be treated as criminals by wearing their assigned prisoner uniforms, the IRA members began their hunger strike in an attempt to be recognized by the British government as “political prisoners of war.”  Ten of the twenty-one men jailed ended up dying as martyrs for their cause, including Bobby Sands, their leader who was elected to parliament while in prison and whose funeral was attended by over 100,000 people.

Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan give exceptional performances as two very different mothers who form an unlikely friendship after their sons, as members of the IRA, are arrested and imprisoned in Belfast’s Maze Prison.

While Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren), an apolitical teacher who is uninterested in the Civil War – trying only to live her life quietly and safely with three children – and is unaware of her son’s involvement with the IRA, Annie Higgins (Flanagan’s character), whose other son was killed by the British, zealously supports her son’s political activities – and is compliant in her son’s readiness to die.

Having reluctantly been brought into “The Troubles” (the expression used at the time to denote Roman Catholic resistance to British Rule), Kathleen faces an agonizing dilemma: choosing whether to allow her son to die after he loses his consciousness from hunger.

Both fascinating and extremely sad, Some Mother’s Son is a powerful, moving account of a historical event that “broke the iron politics of Margaret Thatcher – causing one to wonder, as Roger Ebert writes in his review of Some Mother’s Son: “is any political belief so important that it is worth sacrificing the life of your son?”

We also recommend reading the New York Times review of Some Mother’s Son by Stephen Holden (December 1996).

*Some Mother’s Son was written by Irish Filmmakers Terry George and Jim Sheridan, starring Helen Mirren, Fionnula Flanagan, Aidan Gillen and David O’Hara.

Check out ATG’s other Irish-themed posts about The Fighting IrishThe Luck of the IrishIrish American cultureIrish recipestraditional Irish music and Irish American novels.

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