Thursday, 5 April 2018

H3 (2001)

The 2001 film H3 is a moving and effective dramatic account of the 1981 hunger strike within the notorious H blocks at the Maze prison. We see these events ostensibly through the eyes of a handful of inmates from the titular block, most notably Sean Scullion (Brendan Mackey) a fictional IRA officer commanding whose job it was to find volunteers for the strike, and his young cellmate, 19 year old Declan (Aidan Campbell). 

Directed by Les Blair, the film focuses primarily on the solidarity and protest of its fictional inmates, as opposed to any political agitprop. The aim here seems to be to get audiences to empathise with the demands of the characters to be seen as political prisoners, rather than to sympathise with the actions of the IRA. The script is from two former Maze prisoners, Brian Campbell and surviving hunger striker Leslie McKeown, who managed a staggering 70 days on the strike, and so although it is only natural that it is told completely from the prisoners perspective,  you don't feel like you're ever being rallied to any particular cause or beaten over the head with the political context.

Although Bobby Sands does appear (played by Mark O'Holloran) his appearances are kept to a minimum, making him a peripheral yet essential player. The real stars here are the aforementioned Mackey, and Campbell who, as a newcomer, becomes the audience's guide to this punishing world and its incredibly resilient spirit. There's also a very good role for British actor Dean Lennox Kelly as Ciarán, Seamus' friend and a vulnerable inmate, handling the Irish accent rather well.

Blair's direction imbues his film with the necessary claustrophobia and misery and doesn't spare audiences from the unpalatable truths of the dirty protest. But I have to say we are spared some of the more graphic realities of this and the prisoners day to day lives. Anyone who has watched the Bobby Sands documentary 66 Days will agree that it iss fair to say that these cells are quite hygienic compared to the excreta smeared walls that truly existed. These walls were more or less clean even though the film shows us Declan smearing the wall at one point! What the film does do is remind us that the 1981 hunger strike wasn't just about Sands or indeed the other 9 who gave their lives. There were over 100 volunteers for the strike and there was of course the writer McKeown himself.

Ultimately, H3 was overshadowed by Steve McQueen's film Hunger as evinced by the fact that over on Letterboxd, there are just nine people who have marked it as watched. It's a shame really as this is a good film in its own right and one which deserves a wider audience.

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