“MAZE”— A True Story


A True Story

Amos Lassen


Maze is based on the true story of the 1983 mass break-out of 38 prisoners from the HMP Maze high security prison in Northern Ireland. It was nominated for 4 Irish Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score (IFTA Awards)

Maze” follows how inmate Larry Marley (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) becomes chief architect of the largest prison escape in Europe since World War II – an escape which he plans but does take part in himself. 

He is up against the most state-of-the-art and secure prison in the whole of Europe; in effect, a prison within a prison. While scheming his way towards pulling off this feat, Larry comes into close contact with prison warder Gordon Close (Barry Ward) (Jimmy’s Hall). 

Larry and Gordon’s complex journey begins with cautious. Initially, Gordon holds all the power in the relationship and rejects all of Larry’s attempts at establishing a friendship between them. Bit by bit, Larry wears down Gordon’s defenses, pushing himself into a position of trust. 

As each man begins to engage with the other as an equal, the wall between prisoner and warder becomes broken down. During all this time, however, Larry has been scheming behind Gordon’s back, gaining as much information as he can and working with other prisoners in a separate block, helping to engineer their escape.  When the escape finally occurs, thirty-eight prisoners reach the main gate and nineteen get away. Gordon is stunned by Larry’s betrayal and his own foolishness. Still, both of them have been completely changed by their interaction. Their relationship represents the beginning of dialogue between the two sides, the beginning of the eventual peace process. 

IRA member Larry Marley was shot down in retaliation for the murder of loyalist John Bingham and the Provisionals duly responded by killing loyalist William “Frenchie” Marchant as payback and prison was probably the safest place for him to be, yet he masterminded the IRA’s most notorious prison break. The careful planning and execution of the escape is what we see in “Maze”.

Maze no longer stands, but in the early 1980s, it was a maximum-security prison for both IRA and UVF militants, which often led to some tense confrontations in the corridors. Marley participated in the 1981 hunger strike, but reluctantly ended his fast. Feeling guilty, he struck on the notion of a large-scale escape as a way to boost morale. However, most of the IRA prison leadership initially dismisses the scheme as unrealistic.

Nevertheless, by agreeing to do prison chores (contrary to the hunger strikers’ demands for special privileges), Marley starts to get a comprehensive picture of the Maze’s security systems. By currying favor with Gordon Close, a frazzled warder who recently survived an assassination attempt, Marley picks up on little flaws to exploit. However, he also starts to begrudgingly respect his jailer as a fellow father and human being. There is the suggestion here that the greatest flaw in Maze security were the British guards, who were too humane in their treatment.

“Maze” is an unusually even-handed prison movie and is about as de-politicized as it could be, while still openly inviting us to sympathize with the escape-planners.

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