I watched this film last night at the cinema and it justifies the hype that is surrounding it. The director, Steve McQueen, is of course most famous (up till now anyway) as the winner of the Turner Prize in 1999 (when he pipped Tracey Emin to the prize). He has been a film-maker for a long time, (his debut was Bear in 1993 which is a stark, stripped-back look at masculinity), but this is his first feature film. It retains the stripped-back feel, focussing mostly on one location, the Maze Prison, and the brutal horrors that go on therein. It is not for the faint of heart at all. Some parts of it are shocking, and yet Mcqueen has a great talent for stalling at particularly striking images and holding the shot for some time while action continues. I find this really effective, noticing the eery beauty in even the most brutal, unhappy, awful situations. This for me is the opposite of euphemism (an example of which, 'the troubles', used to refer to the war that went on in Ireland, is exposed as the lie it is in this film)... it takes a searing, brave, honest look at things, sees their terrible beauty and holds it so that you revile yourself in even thinking of beauty. These conflicting emotions are also embodied in the central character, Bobby Sands, who led the tragic 1981 hunger strike that resulted in 10 deaths.
Mcqueen's film is remarkably un-cluttered and yet a wealth of different kinds of scene are employed. We have a scene of extended dialogue in which Sands discusses the ethics of hunger striking with a priest. Thatcher's ugly voice is used as a voice-over. There are very violent scenes. A scene where a man is in tears, while extreme violence goes on beside him.
I think this is must-viewing for anyone interested in film, interested in recent history, interested in the way history is formed. It is not a simplistically judgemental film. The performances, particularly Michael Fassbender, are similarly uncompromising, brave and dedicated.