Terry George and Jim Sheridan's screenplay for In The Name Of The Father earned them an Oscar nomination, but in trying to do for the IRA hunger strikers what their last film did for the Guildford Four, the pair have come up about five numbers short of the jackpot.
Some Mother's Son uses two fictional families to tell the story of the 1981 Maze Prison protest that left Bobby Sands and nine other IRA men dead. Helen Mirren plays Kathleen Quigley, a widowed, apolitical schoolteacher; Fionnula Flanagan is Annie Higgins, the angry Republican farmer whose youngest son is dead, shot by the British.
The two women's elder sons, both IRA members, are thrown into gaol after a late-night Christmas shootout. When the men join the Maze hunger strike - begun and led by Bobby Sands (John Lynch) in response to the Thatcher government's refusal to recognise IRA inmates as political prisoners - two very different mothers find themselves drawn together, Mirren even changing her stance and adding her voice to the Republican cause.
It's a powerful premise: men of violence willing to die for their beliefs, and women torn between pride, hatred and maternal love (they can save their sons' lives by agreeing to the dying men's force-feeding). Yet the script gives us an unfocused version of events and, in his directorial debut, George musters only minimal tension and emotive force.
Flanagan shows why she's regarded as one of Ireland's finest actresses, but Mirren, her accent hovering somewhere between Armagh and Arkansas, never gets out of first gear. Worst of all is Tom Hollander, who pops up too often as Farnsworth, a shady government "representative" (does he work for the Northern Ireland office? MI5? MI6? MFI?). The boyish Hollander (he played Saffy's filthy rich fiancé in Absolutely Fabulous) is disastrously miscast as baddie-in-chief, most of his scenes looking like they've been lifted from a particularly cheesy episode of The Professionals.
If you want to see Mirren and Lynch in a gripping and moving film that speaks eloquently about the human cost of The Troubles, skip Some Mother's Son and seek out the superb 1984 movie Cal on video.