‘Maze’ And The Irish Troubles: A Film Review

by Rachel Bellwoar

Maze is the difference between a blockbuster prison break film and an indie prison break film. In a blockbuster, all you need to stage a prison break is the desire not to be in prison anymore and the tone is the same as a heist film – high stakes thriller that leaves you perched on the edge of your seat.

At the time Larry Marley (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Love/Hate) was planning a prison break at Maze High-Security Prison, it was considered the most secure prison in Europe. There was nothing low stakes about it. Thirty-eight IRA prisoners made it out in 1983. Marley’s motives, however, were a lot more complicated than not wanting to be inside anymore.

Directed and written by Stephen Burke, and based on a true story, Maze opens with Marley’s transfer to a mixed block at Maze (Republican and Loyalist prisoners confined together), but really begins with the hunger strike that ended just beforehand, with ten strikers dead. Known as “Blanket Men,” because they would wrap themselves in blankets and nothing else, Marley survived but many of his friends didn’t and it’s in honor of them that he starts planning an escape.

Marley isn’t primarily concerned with getting himself out. For this to work as a morale booster for the IRA, it needs to be big, which means more people, and more chances someone could slip up. Marley has one line about a rain cloud that’s pretty funny but for the most part everyone’s serious, and while it’s a far cry from the glamorous, Hollywood prison break film, for history buffs Maze represents something better: a film that strives to be as historically accurate as possible. This is especially clear after listening to Burke’s commentary, where he provides additional context for some of the scenes and shares some of the research that went into making the film.

One of the main relationships the movie follows is between Marley and his prison warder, Gordon Close (Barry Ward, Jimmy’s Hall). Marley wants to gain Gordon’s trust but to do that he often has to bite his tongue instead of saying how he really feels. Nothing can endanger the plan, but as a result Marley and Gordon never have that breakthrough you’re kind of waiting for them to have, where they come to understand each other’s point of view better.

Since this is a conflict with so many sides, there would’ve been room to pursue that, but in the end the goal isn’t to change Gordon’s mind but to ensure everything goes off without a snag. Marley never makes Gordon rethink his views because he can’t risk voicing his own. Likewise, Gordon never makes Marley waver on the prison break. No one’s meant to get hurt (violence would only hurt their cause, not help it), so there’s no guilt on that front. Basically, for all that their relationship isn’t satisfying from a story perspective, it’s truthful to the necessitates of the escape, and that’s Maze’s first priority. Watching this movie made me want to learn more about Maze and the hunger strikes and as a bonus feature, Burke’s short film, “81” takes a faux documentary approach to the election of Bobby Sands, one of the strikers who became a member of parliament before starving in prison.

Maze is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting June 25th.

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