By Amber Cliffe

Starred up (2013) ★★★★★

David Mackenzie’s Starred Up (2013) explores the unpredictability of a UK prison facility. Refreshingly authentic, there is no mistaking that this portrait of prison life has not been glorified in any way. Eric Love, played by the talented Jack O’Connell, is a 19-year-old young offender. Labelled ‘dangerously violent’, Eric is moved from a juvenile facility and housed with adults in a maximum security prison. The film gives a snapshot of his troubled world and life behind bars - the complex but vulnerability of prisoners. Starred Up reflects the UK prison system, with remarkable reality, although we know these issues go beyond borders. The palpable threat of violence is echoed throughout the film and never lifts, which gives the audience a glimpse into the frightening truth of an inmate in prison, wherever in the world.

Prison facilities all over the globe are alarmingly understaffed and overcrowded which has led to dangerous conditions for both inmates and staff. According to the Ministry of Justice, violence in prisons has increased to record levels including serious assaults, self-harm and suicide. Prisoners Abroad supports prisoners who have been subjected to abuse, mistreatment and torture in harsh conditions overseas and don’t doubt the reality of the violence that occurs.

Hunger (2008) ★★★★

Steve McQueen’s gritty debut film visits the agonised period of British and Irish history in the 1980s. We follow Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), a member of the IRA who died on hunger strike while imprisoned at HMP Maze. Bleak, dark and harrowing, Hunger offers a bold reflection on the ‘dirty protests’, hunger strikes and assaults that occurred during this time. Cell walls were smeared with faeces and urine, bloody violent beatings along with Fassbender’s disturbing weight loss – all traumatic scenes which aren’t easily forgotten. McQueen largely focuses his attention on Bobby Sands’ last weeks, slowly dying of starvation in protest against his incarceration and conditions.

Although the film is a historical drama set in a particularly tense political period, the film highlights the grim reality of some inmates still today. Prisoners Abroad knows hunger strikes are still used as a form of protest by prisoners and has guidance about the health and legal implications. Fassbender’s performance is exceptional; however, Hunger is definitely not one for the faint-hearted.

Mean Machine (2001) ★★★

Ex-footballer, Vinnie Jones, plays a satirical character of himself in Barry Skolnick’s remake of The Longest Yard (1974). Mean Machine’s protagonist Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones), a disgraced ex-footballer is sent to prison for assaulting a police officer. Inside he needs to prove himself to utterly disappointed and distrusting inmates by leading them into the ultimate football battle between inmates and prison guards. Packed full with clichés – but the enjoyability doesn’t waver. Prisoners Abroad knows how important sport and fitness are to people in prisons all around the world, with little room or few activity options. We publish advice on exercises that can be done in a tight space. The film touches on the importance of friendship for survival within prison as well as the hierarchical corruption that, unfortunately, seems to be inevitable in prison.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

Bridget Jones, the well-loved singleton who has now featured in three rom-com adaptations of Helen Fielding’s books, ventures to Thailand and becomes caught up in drug trafficking; as in real life, the most innocent involvement is not looked on kindly by the authorities. Thailand gives out extremely long sentences for drug trafficking, and the punishment can include the death penalty. Played by Renee Zellweger, our heroine is arrested and sent to a women’s prison in Bangkok. She transforms the mood in the bleak, overcrowded cell with her energy, wit and knowledge of Madonna songs, which is all very light-hearted and watchable. The barren décor and overcrowding is true to life; however, Bridget’s connection with top fictional barrister Mark Darcy most unrealistically means the foreign secretary and British Embassy get her out of prison. This does not happen – there is no special treatment and the Foreign Office cannot intervene in cases, so there should probably be a disclaimer somewhere in the film. People travelling to and living in Thailand need to be aware of the rules and penalties there, as the reality may be much harsher than they imagine.

Read Laura's blog about Midnight Express