Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Film Review: Some Mother's Son

Year Released: 1996

Written by: Terry George & Jim Sheridan

Directed by: Terry George

Review by: Steph

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Why I Watched This/What It's About: This film weaves fictional characters into the true story of the 1981 hunger strike, led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, in Belfast Maze Prison. We see the blossoming friendship between pacifist Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren) and feisty rebel Annie Higgins (Fionnula Flanagan) who, after having a child murdered by British soldiers, is an unapologetic IRA supporter. Kathleen and Annie form their unlikely bond after their sons -- Gerard Quigley (Aidan Gillen) and Frank Higgins (David O'Hara) -- are arrested for acts of terrorism. Both women find themselves struggling to save their sons. This is an absorbing, believable drama about a dark period in history and the tragedy of cyclical violence.

Sarah, my daughter and co-blogger, introduced me to this film, which was on her Christmas wishlist. I'm a bit of a history buff and "The Troubles" in Ireland have always interested me. This film covers some of the same events portrayed in Steve McQueen's Hunger and was co-written by the director of In the Name of the Father -- both movies I loved. And hey, it's Helen Mirren and Aidan Gillen. What more reason could I possibly need?

The Rest of My Review:

Kathleen and Annie take center stage throughout much of the film, and it is interesting to watch the bond between the two women take root as well as the evolution of their characters. Kathleen, who is relatively apolitical, as well as a pacifist, finds herself thrust into the realm of politics as she struggles to save her son. Both of these actresses gave outstanding performances, but for me Helen Mirren outshone everyone else in the film. Just looking into her eyes, as Annie faces every mother's worst fear, broke my heart. And she gives a mesmerizing performance as a woman who thinks for herself, making wrenching life and death decisions, while standing between two polarized camps of true believers.

The movie also follows Gerard and Frank after their arrest and gives us a glimpse into the Belfast Maze Prison. We meet Bobby Sands (John Lynch) as he leads prisoners into a hunger strike as part of their struggle to gain recognition as prisoners of war rather than criminals. This raises thought-provoking questions. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Exactly where is the line between acts of war and acts of terrorism? Between killing in the line of duty and murder? Between a martyr and a common criminal?

This film is clearly not objective or impartial -- its sympathies lie on the side of the IRA. However it does put a wholly human face on the struggle, making it a story that transcends political battles. It also explores the political context of the hunger strikes in a complex way, showing battles within each camp. It offers vivid realism, influenced by the fact that director Terry George grew up in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” and served two terms in jail for IRA-related activities. All of this is backed up by an excellent cast, strong writing and direction, and an excellent outstanding musical score by Bill Whelan (Riverdance).

Autodidact's Note: As I mentioned, this film covers some of the same events portrayed in Steve McQueen's Hunger. Hunger shows little of the political context, focusing instead on a mesmerizingly raw, brutally realistic look at life inside the prison.

While Hunger is the stronger film, in my opinion, Some Mother's Son fills in more detail, putting the struggle in the Belfast Maze Prison in a broader context. And while many of the characters in Some Mother's Son are fictional, it does offer a variety of perspectives.

I recommend watching both films, perhaps back to back. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the treatment of historical events in these two movies and well as the different styles of filmmaking.

Bibliophile's Connection: I would like to read some historical fiction about the Irish Troubles. Any suggestions?

Musical Connection: The title of the movie actually comes from a line in the film. However, it's also taken from the title of a Kinks song:


  1. Never heard of this, but it looks great. Adding it to my watchlist.

    1. I hope you get a chance to see it, Josh. I'd love to hear what you think.

  2. I thought Hunger was powerful, but for me lacked sufficient historical context, so I should give this one a try. Good write-up.
    ps Are the Irish accents difficult to understand, should I watch with English subtitles?

    1. I didn't find the accents difficult to understand, but I always use subtitles anyway because my daughter and I have auditory processing issues. I hope you get the chance to see this Chris. I think it's definitely a worthwhile movie.


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