Dear Helen Mirren
Is this really the right time to make a Hollywood film about the republican hunger-striker Bobby Sands?
Monday 28 August 1995
Sure, there is a line between drama and propaganda - but it is a very fine one. On one level I can see that the Bobby Sands tale makes wonderful celluloid. For a start, it gives Hollywood the rare opportunity to show the precarious side of hunger, starvation and getting thin - rather than the usual glamour shots of Cindy Crawford on an exercise bike. More seriously, as all of us sat glued to the news bulletins for 66 days in 1980 will remember, the real Bobby Sands saga had all the requisite elements of a tear-jerking blockbuster. He was a truly Byronic figure, no matter what side you were on. Anyone who believes strongly enough in a cause to die for it always evokes our pity and admiration on an Aristotelian scale. The feeling is that if this person had enough faith to die for his beliefs, what might he have achieved if he were still alive? Far more than you or I or the average coward on the street, that's for sure.
And yet, Ms Mirren, there's another, altogether less romantic side to this proposed film about Mr Sands, isn't there? One of the writers, Terry George, is a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, whose paramilitary wing murdered the British Tory MP Airey Neave. Mr George himself was jailed for six years in 1975 for possessing arms.
This does not of course mean that he is not a suitable scriptwriter for your film - he did a great job on In The Name Of The Father (even if the drama was somewhat removed from the facts) - but the difference between that film and your own is that the Guildford Four case, on which In The Name Of the Father was based, was well and truly over by the time filming happened.
The situation in Ulster is very different. As the first anniversary of the ceasefire approaches, the fear that violence may be reignited is at its greatest in 12 months. Filming A Mother's Son today is unlikely to raise already heightened emotions to the extent that people become trigger- happy again, but the timing is certainly insensitive.
Listen to the Irish themselves: both sides of the divide have condemned the idea as sensationalist and even members of Bobby Sands' own family do not approve. They see it as a "naked attempt" to exploit a "painful time for financial gain".
I am not so harsh. I see the merits of the idea. It is the timing with which I am concerned. Please do not set fire to dynamite.
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