Sunday, 2 November 2008
In the early 1980s a string of protests rocked Belfast’s Maze Prison as IRA prisoners demanded to be treated as political prisoners and receive special privileges. Their actions included "dirty" protests (refusing to wash, smearing the walls of their cells with their own excrement) and "blanket" protests (refusing to wear anything but a blanket), and eventually escalated to a string of hunger strikes by various members, including the one that led to the death of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender). The first half of writer / director Steve McQueen’s film dramatising those events verges on being a silent film, as we see the back-and-forth of the situation: the prison guards living in fear out on the streets, the prisoners being abused inside the prison, with the cycle of abuses ramping itself up to brutal bashings and killings - and then we get what might as well be a twenty minute play filmed pretty much in one take of a conversation between Sands and his priest (Liam Cunningham) which lays out with compelling argument and at times chilling logic the case for Sands calmly starving himself to death. Which we then see him go on to do in the same clinical, almost emotionless detail that the earlier scenes have taken to examine earlier horrors. Hunger is a gripping, utterly absorbing, and at times appalling film that won't be easily forgotten.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #440)