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Film review: This will a-Maze captive audience

FOR many people in the 26 counties of Ireland, ‘The Troubles’ is something of a mystery.

Yes, there was news footage and endless special reports detailing the difficulties, but the minutia have often been lost or were never discussed.

It would be remiss of me to say this was always the case but, for the most part, unless someone had family across the border, then The Troubles were a bit of blur.

Director and writer Stephen Burke’s latest film Maze hopes to change that with a detailed depiction of the Maze Prison breakout and the events leading up to it.

The break-out, which took place in 1983, was the single largest prison break in Irish and English history — 38 prisoners would break free in a plan devised by one man, Larry Marley.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor stars as Marley, a real-life republican imprisoned in the Maze Prison, one of the most secure prisons in Europe.

Following the infamous Hunger Strikes and the Dirty Protests, Marley is moved to a wing of the Maze containing both Republican and Loyalist prisoners.

The Maze is literally that, a labyrinth of wings is laid out in an H shape. To disorientate the prisoners, they are transported whilst blindfolded and driven from wing to wing. They never know where they are in the prison.

Tensions are high and things are made worse by Marley asking to be allowed to do chores on the wing. Until now republicans have refused to do work that they saw as the job of the wardens, but Marley has a plan. He wants to get the lay of the land, as it were.

He intends to scope out the prison and find out as much information as possible, as well as gaining the trust of the wardens, namely Warden Gordon Close (Barry Ward).

His reason for all this is he has decided on a large-scale prison break. His OC, Oscar (Martin McCann), is wary but agrees to cover for Marley when other prisoners, led by Joe (Aaron Monaghan), are angered by what they see as Marley pandering to the prison guards.

In time, Marley lets more of the prisoners in on his plan but first, he has to build his relationship with Gordon. Marley needs to make Gordon see him and the other republicans as people, not just prisoners, and wants him to understand that the crimes they committed were not straightforward, but things they had to do to defend their side.

Gordon does not relent on the crimes but does begin to see the human side of his prisoners. The two men skirt around each other initially but in time a friendship forms, although it is a slow build.

Gordon has his own problems. He and his family have been attacked by armed gunmen and his wife is threatening to leave him unless he quits his job as a warden.

Marley promises Gordon that he will no longer be targeted by republicans, another step in building their friendship, and eventually the two men bond over marital issues.

Eileen Walsh plays Marley’s wife, Laura, her screen time is limited but she gives a powerful performance.

The third act focuses on the break-out itself and it is a tension- wrought and gripping set piece of action.

The film looks at a painful time in Irish history but by presenting a two-sided story, Burke has created a film that can be used not just for entertainment but also for the purposes of education.

Vaughan-Lawlor gives a terrific performance as Marley. The actor has had some great, larger than life roles in recent years but here he gives a more restrained performance, drawing the audience in with quiet intensity.

Ward, always a solid actor, is the perfect counterbalance to Vaughan-Lawlor. The tension between the two men is believable as is their turn towards friendship.

The close spaces of prison cells and tight filming give a stage-like feel, enhanced by a magnetic performance by Monaghan who lights up each of his scenes.

Filmed in the now-closed Cork Prison, Cork extras make up the bulk of the prisoners and several Cork actors also make an appearance.

What starts out as an intimate drama, builds in tension, ratcheting up with each scene until it reaches the explosive break-out scenes.

Maze is a powerful and solid look at a recent historic event. Well worth watching.

* Maze is released nationwide on September 22, cert 15a, ****