Silent Grace (2001) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: Orla Brady, Cathleen Bradley, Cara Seymour, Dawn Bradfield, Conor Mullen

Director: Maeve Murphy

Set in Northern Ireland in 1980, SILENT GRACE is a fairly hard hitting and graphic film about the hardships endured by a group of women Republican prisoners attempting to gain political prisoner status in Armagh Women’s prison. It explores a highly unlikely friendship that develops between a staunch Republican activist Eileen (Orla Brady) incarcerated there and Aine (Cathleen Brady) a headstrong young woman convicted of joyriding, who proclaims herself to be an IRA supporter and as such doesn’t recognise the authority of the Northern Ireland court who hands down a 12 month jail sentence.

Aine for her outspoken insolence and insistence that she is a Republican is thrown into the middle of a ‘dirty’ protest the other women Republican prisoners have instigated for holding a paramilitary display in the prison grounds and in defiance of the British Government stance that as they are criminals, the IRA prisoners will never receive political status. For those of you that don’t know what a ‘dirty’ protest is it means Eileen and her compatriots are smearing their own excrement on their cell walls, refusing to wash and are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day! The situation doesn’t improve but to the contrary escalates into Eileen going on hunger strike when she learns that three male IRA prisoners, including her boyfriend, are also on hunger strike.

This is certainly a moving film and not for the feint hearted. The conditions inside the prison in the women’s cells, the stance of the British Government imposed by Governor Cunningham (Conor Mullen) on the women Republican inmates and the friction between these IRA prisoners and some of the Loyalist warders are all very stark and illuminating. The film though focuses very much on the plight of the Republican prisoners and the developing friendship between Eileen and Aine who have such a completely different outlook on life but help each other out at a crucial crux in the story. The film however only focuses on the story from the prisoners’ perspective and ignores the acts of terrorism that they have committed.

Director Maeve Murphy who hails from Northern Ireland and also wrote and produced SILENT GRACE (her debut feature) manages to pull off quite a feat with this film. Though the story is fictional it is based on true facts and by humanizing her lead characters in their fight against the British Government, Maeve Murphy has ended up with quite a watchable but paced film bolstered by a reasonable script and directing that keep the film moving along. It is well acted by all the cast, especially by Orla Brady, Cathleen Bradley and Conor Mullen, and their convincing portrayals really lift it out of its grim and turbulent background.

3 out of 6 stars