The Maze (also known as Long Kesh or the H-Blocks) was once thought the most secure prison in Europe, but as the gripping new film "Maze" shows us that was until the daring real-life breakout of 38 republican prisoners in 1983.

In "Maze" award-winning Irish actor Vaughan-Lawlor, 42, (best known for Love/Hate) plays the real-life Larry Marley, a committed republican desperately looking for a way to make the sacrifices of his comrades mean as much to the world as they do to him.

Morale inside the republican section of the Maze is at its lowest ebb after the deaths of the hunger strikers and the apparent victory of Thatcherism and the state.

'Maze' - Trailer

"Maze," a film depicting the Maze prison escape in which 38 IRA prisoners broke out of the infamous facility, opens March 22 in New York and March 29 in Los Angeles and other select markets. Read more about it here:

Publiée par sur Jeudi 28 février 2019

But Marley is a man on a mission. Volunteering to do cleanup work he is, in reality, crafting an elaborate escape plan, mapping every inch of the prison and even counting the time it takes (and all the turns the prison van makes) to create a map of the whole place.

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If you don't know the story of the Maze prison breakout in the North in 1983 it can be summed up like this. After the national trauma of the hunger strikes had ended, the British government believed the spirit of the IRA prisoners in the Maze (or the Kesh, as they called it) had been broken.

Ten hunger strikers had passed away without their demands being met (apart from a renewed global focus they brought to their plight). It seemed to some commentators that their deaths had been for nothing.

Tom Vaughan Lawlor (left) stars in Maze

Tom Vaughan Lawlor (left) stars in Maze

What good was dying for Ireland if you gained nothing in return, critics – especially Unionist critics – asked? But as writer and director Stephen Burke reminds us in "Maze", his new film about the aftermath of the hunger strikes and the galvanizing effect they had on some of the incarcerated republican prisoners, what you see in Ireland often depends on where you stand.

"Maze" arrives later this month about a week before the Brexit deadline in the UK, making this an ideal time to reflect on the long shadow of the Troubles. In case you weren't there or weren't born yet, it was a bitter three-decades-long war that blighted the lives of everyone it touched.

Barry Ward in "Maze".

Barry Ward in "Maze".

Young and old, nationalist and unionist, Catholic and Protestant, believer and dissenter. As "Maze" reminds us, over and over, it was the sheer intimacy of the conflict, with the opposing sides often sharing an evening living on the same streets, that made it so heartbreaking.

Like the loyalist and republican prisoners being held together in the same prison block, and like the prison wardens and the prisoners they guarded, it would seem that everyone was caught up in a giant unwinnable stalemate.

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In the beginning, his breakout plan is dismissed by his operations commander Oscar, played by Martin McCann. It's too risky, the place is too impregnable, and the loyalist prisoners are certain to come to the aid of the guards during any republican breakout attempt, he reasons.

Martin McCann as IRA OC Oscar in Maze

Martin McCann as IRA OC Oscar in Maze

But Marley is adamant he's doing the right thing and so he continues to quietly plot the big escape without his OC's knowledge, in the off chance that if there is a change of mind from the leadership, he'll be ready.

He is given unwitting help for his plans from the suspicious prison warden Gordon Close, played by fellow Dubliner Barry Ward. Close doesn't trust Marley but he doesn't object to his presence mopping up the prison floor, or the cups of tea Marley brings him to get into his good graces.

Vaughan-Lawlor is outstanding as the steely but determined Marley, giving a fantastic interior performance that telegraphs to the audience (but not to the authorities) what his blank-faced character is actually thinking and doing.

Ireland keeps on producing world-class screen actors and Vaughan-Lawlor (who appeared last year in Marvels big budget Infinity War) the latest example of a talent that will rise all the way to Oscar glory.

The RADA-trained Dublin actor is matched onscreen moment by moment by his fellow Dubliner Barry Ward, who plays the formidable prison warden Gordon Close. Close has a blind spot that Marley identifies early on, he refuses to think of any outcome he doesn't like and that puts him at a disadvantage when Marley's plans go into operation.

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Ward is best known for his star turn in "Jimmy's Hall", Ken Loach's film about religious oppression in early 1930's Ireland, and in "Maze" he goes head to head with Vaughan-Lawlor in a screen acting prize fight.

Marley and Close's run-ins are among the most compelling in the film, with both men embodying the tragedy of the wider society that has made them. But by refusing to despair and by making use of every chance that he spots, Marley clearly has the advantage.

Close makes no effort to understand the man who's motivations he doesn't respect or share. That's his biggest mistake. When he tells Marley that his friends starved themselves to death for nothing, calling them fools, Marley listens but does not respond. Minutes later when he's on his own he tears his cell apart in fury, though. “We're doing this,” he vows to his fellow inmates, meaning escape. “I don't know how but it's happening.” For Marley breaking out isn't just a plan it's an expression of self-respect.

Opportunities soon present themselves. When loyalist prisoners attempt to stage an orange march through the republican prisoners quarters, tensions predictably escalate. But Marley sees the opportunity that's hidden behind the insult and when a riot ensues (which he suggests) the loyalists are taken off the republican ward, making the block an IRA stronghold.

Maze director Stephen Burke

Maze director Stephen Burke

In the outside world Close survives a murder attempt, but then his wife leaves him, taking their daughter to London to escape the Troubles. Taking security precautions in his own home, he installs iron bars that echo the prison he guards. “Maybe you're a prisoner like the rest of us,” Marley tells him but Close isn't prepared to follow the logic to its conclusion yet.

At this point Close still believes the work he is doing is in service to the greater good, even with a broken marriage, an empty home and an assassination attempt behind him. Resisting the enemy, which is the men he guards, is what gives his life meaning.

The dance between the two men, as one tests the other, is fascinating to watch. Marley looks passive but finds endless ways to get the information he needs to fuel the mass breakout. He uses everything he sees and does to plot each step of his projected plan.

In fact, he's often a one-man vendetta, driven by the ghosts of his past and by his commitment to his mission, which can be described in one word, freedom. Maze doesn't sugarcoat how complex and harrowing the escape and its consequences are. Some critics will grouse that it elevates one side over the other, but the film is not here to re-litigate the Troubles, instead, it sets its sights on convincingly showing us how this real-life breakout was conceived and carried out.

It helps that Maze has assembled such a stellar cast of Irish acting talent to tell its tale. Getting out of prison and staying out of prison is not the same thing it shows us, and the film arrives at the perfect moment to remind us of just how far we have all come and how much danger a return to this broken era would mean.
"Maze" opens March 22.

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Will you be watching "Maze" when it's released in the USA? For those in Ireland or the UK, it's already on Netflix! Let us know your thoughts on the movie in the comments section below.