IRA hunger strikers fight again on film

Michael Streeter meets the director of 'Some Mother's Son'
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Neil Jordan's epic movie Michael Collins caused controversy as well as delight with its human portrayal of the 1920s IRA leader. But in four weeks' time a highly-charged new film dealing with the 1980s saga of the Northern Ireland hunger strikes could create even more political shockwaves.

Some Mother's Son, starring Helen Mirren and released in Britain on 10 January, steps through the sectarian minefield of the 1981 protest at the Province's Long Kesh prison when more than 20 IRA prisoners demanded political status.

They took on a determined Margaret Thatcher and, in the head-to-head struggle that followed, 10 starved to death, including a 27 year old destined to be one of the most famous men of the decade: Bobby Sands.

The award-winning film is seen through the eyes of two mothers - one played by Ms Mirren - who have to watch helpless as their sons slowly waste away. Its maker, Terry George, a one-time member of the Irish National Liberation Army who in the 1970s served three years in the prison for arms possession, sees the potential parallels with the Collins film - now a big box office success. But he claims the hunger protestors - whom he describes as "martyrs" - carry more current resonance than the story of Collins.

"The whole world has heard of Bobby Sands," says George. "He's a cultural icon of the Eighties with a weird and tragic story. Nobody in America knows who Collins was."

Of the hunger strike George observes: "It was the single most traumatic event for the nationalist community in Northern Ireland in 30 years. It crystallised the anger and pathos of the previous 12 years."

Some Mother's Son is George's second movie, though his first as director. The screenplay was written with his friend Jim Sheridan - the same team behind In The Name Of The Father, the story of the Guildford Four.

The film has already opened in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, to some success, although partly ignored by the Protestant majority in the North.

But its real test is likely to come after Christmas when the British public has its chance to see the portrayal of Mrs Thatcher's ruthlessness as she allowed the 10 protestors to die, mourned hopelessly by their families.

George is under no illusions about the potential row his film could cause. "I have already been accused of being too sympathetic to the 'pan- nationalist front'," he says.

"It is in fact a human drama about mothers caught up in a war. But no one in the two islands is neutral on this topic."