Tony Garnett • Blog Posts

Kilmainham Gaol Prison Source: Wikimedia | Antonio Camelo

Off-Cut: Law and Order – 1916

The 1916 uprising in Dublin and the mini series about judicial corruption, Law and Order, are welded as one in my mind. Connection?

Episode 4 of Law and Order, written by G F Newman and directed by Les Blair, was set in a prison. The Home Office resolutely blanked us. A diktat was issued. Not only did every prison refuse permission to film on its premises and forbid all staff to give technical advice, it even told the supplier of prison furniture that it would lose their bulk order if it supplied us. The idea was to stop our film in its tracks.

But many prisons still in use were based on Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon design from the 19th century. Ireland was then still a colony. So Kilmainham prison in Dublin was architecturally just like an English prison. It was also now a museum and not in use. Our film was not about Ireland, so we were given permission to film there. Our design team dressed it. How they got hold of the authentic gear is another story. The whole crew and cast went to Dublin and there we shot the film.

It was the late 70s. Not being versed in political history, our people located the catering truck in the old stone breakers yard. There the crew gathered for their dinners, and when not on the set, gossiped over coffee. I arrived, pleased to see our crew had settled into the location with their usual professional efficiency, and went to get a cuppa. It took me a few minutes to actually see this location as anything other than a place for the caterers. As it dawned my horror grew. Here I was in charge of turning this terrible, sacred place into just somewhere to relax. I imagined the scene in 1916, those brave men brought out and shot. Eamon Ceannt, Thomas James Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse, Joseph Mary Plunkett, who was married in jail just before being executed, and James Connolly. Unable to stand as a result of wounds from the uprising, he was shot sitting down.

I looked around me, wondering what to do. In the end I gathered members of the crew and cast around and quietly reminded them of the historical importance of the spot, told the story and asked them to be respectful of what was now a sacred moment in Ireland’s fight for freedom from the English oppressor. I couldn’t eat there. Each time I looked round and thought of those brave victims my appetite fled.

The film was shot without incident. It was shown to the impotent fury of the Home Office, The prison Officers Association and sundry, backward Parliamentary figures.

I would never forget that accidental brush with the brave martyrs.