The IRA: a commercial break

Terry George's beatification of IRA hunger strikers is rightly overshadowed by a late offering from Michelangelo Antonioni

USHERED INTO a cell and confronted with his first sight of Bobby Sands (John Lynch) - solemn face framed with beard and long hair, naked beneath the blanket round his already scrawny shoulders - Gerard Quigley (Aiden Gillen) jokes nervously that he looks like Jesus Christ. So he does, so do all his fellow prisoners - and on the evidence of Terry George's Some Mother's Son (15), the resemblance is more than physical. Courageous, principled, good-humoured, pious, resourceful, selfless and kind, every rank-and-file member of the IRA banged up in H-Block in 1981 was, it appears, much like Christ, except with nicer manners. This isn't partisanship, it's idolatry.

When a film wears its political sympathies as frankly as George's, it would be disingenuous to pretend that it can be praised or damned simply on dramatic terms; which is not to say that the film has to stand or fall by its politics alone. It's possible to imagine a drama about the hunger strikes that sided with the fasters without playing saints and bogeymen (it might, for example, give a little weight to the embarrassing fact unknown to at least one intelligent American lady of my acquaintance - that the IRA has been known to kill, maim and intimidate people who aren't soldiers or prison guards), but this isn't that film. Take the scene in which Quigley, who has been involved in a lethal mortar attack, is arrested by the security forces. The scene is a Tiny Tim-style Christmas, in which cuddly Republicans shyly exchange gifts and marvel with dewy eyes at the turkey - all suddenly blown apart when the family dog whimpers and the faceless Gestapo, sorry, British Army, smashes through the door. It's a miracle George didn't show them shooting the doggie.

There are, to be unduly fair-minded, one or two ethically concessive notes (albeit hollow and easy to miss) in the film, so let's concede that for those who mind neither its beliefs nor its brazen manipulativeness, Some Mother's Son is a fairly proficient tearjerker. Quigley's mother Kathleen (Helen Mirren, suffering nobly) is the protagonist making a journey to awakening - she's meant, in other words, to act as a surrogate for the floating voters in the audience, and though she doesn't end up sticking fuses in Semtex, it seems to be a close-run thing. An ad for the IRA, then? Maybe not, but it's hard to see why they might be peeved by it.

There is more disconcerting, if also more oblique political matter to be found in Robinson in Space (PG), Patrick Keiller's sequel to his well-regarded London. Like that film, Robinson is a series of slyly composed, faintly uncanny documentary images of English landscape and architecture, which purports to be the visual record of a seven-part journey of enquiry around the nation undertaken by the unseen, unnamed narrator (Paul Scofield) and his hypothetical friend Robinson. For the most part Scofield's measured, finicky tones supply historical anecdotes, reel off statistics about profit margins and unemployment rates, and supply quotations from the likes of Baudelaire, Bergson and Raoul Vaneigem. Evita fans will love it.

While it's highly literate, Robinson isn't narrowly literary - it amounts to more than an illustrated tract. In London, Keiller nodded to the wartime documentaries of Humphrey Jennings; Robinson often seems to reprise some of Jennings' efforts to present a transfigured English landscape. Keiller is as eager to peruse a borstal as a folly, and manages to winkle out the occult connections between the two, to engrossing ends. In this regard, Robinson is further proof that geography is the new Big Thing.

Geographically speaking, Starmaker (18) is a reprise of Giuseppe Tornatore's popular hit Cinema Paradiso; it's set among the same parched fields and battered edifices of rural Sicily in 1953. However, as the director has pointed out, this film is about a cynical exploitation of movies rather than an invocation of their magic. For the first hour or so, it's essentially a set of variations on one joke, and quite a good one: the locals are so desperate to escape poverty that they fall easy prey to a travelling conman, Joe Morelli (Sergio Castellitto), who trundles from village to village, conducting bogus screen tests in return for money, sexual favours or other treats.

Tornatore pulls off several amusing set-pieces - such as the episodes in which Morelli talks himself out of the hands of gangsters and manages to get paid into the bargain, or in which he is reluctantly persuaded to film a dead Mafia boss - and one exhilarating spectacle, when 2,000 flag-bearing peasants swarm across a valley to reclaim the land. But the black comedy curdles into sentimentality as Morelli takes up with a pretty orphan girl and comes a cropper. The ending, meant to resonate tragically, feels more like an abandonment than a conclusion of the plot.

The Mirror Has Two Faces (15) bears the credit "A Film by Barbra Streisand". More precisely, it is An Exercise in Screaming Vanity by Barbra Streisand, since the whole mess seems little more than a pretext for its final scenes, in which the director-producer-star blossoms from a dowdy academic into a sex-goddess of such monumental babeliciousness that she has the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Bridges slobbering all over her, so dazzlingly does she outshine the pulchritude of all their former squeezes - Elle Macpherson, Mimi Rogers ... charity forbids further comment on what dark cravings have driven this aspect of the production.

In other hands, and trimmed of excess narrative fat, Mirror could have made a reasonable latter-day screwball comedy. The gimmick is promising enough: Gregory Larkin (Bridges), a maths lecturer at Columbia, is so sick of the complications wrought in his life by falling for lovely women that he decides to befriend and marry someone he can like and respect rather than moon over. Rose Morgan (Babs), a middle-aged literature professor who still lives with her mum (Lauren Bacall, giving the proceedings more zizz with a single raised eyebrow than Streisand can milk in two hours of close-up emoting), goes along with this idealistic scheme until her hormones kick in. Resenting his lack of ardour, she jogs, pumps iron, gets big hair, and buys slinky dresses and high heels. When hubby comes home after a couple of months in Europe, he's speechless, and no wonder. His wife has turned into Miss Piggy.

Witless and miscalculated as it is, Mirror still offers a few scenes to relish, such as the first glimpse we are given of Rose lecturing to a packed (of course) auditorium of adoring (of course) students, who respond to the mish-mash of grandstanding, ignorance and false modesty which she offers by way of an introduction to the conventions of courtly love with (of course) mad applause. No one ventures to correct her pronunciation of "Turandot". Lionel Trilling, Rose's eminent precursor at Columbia, would have been too fastidious to express his horror in such low terms, but I believe the demotic American expression for Ms Streisand's performance is "a pile of BS".

Cinema details: Going Out, page 14.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing