Steve McQueen directs this unflinching dramatisation of the last weeks in the life of Bobby Sands, the Provisional IRA member who led the 1981 Irish hunger strike in the political wing of Belfast's Maze Prison. Ten prisoners starved themselves to death in protest at being denied official political prisoner status by Margaret Thatcher's government. Michael Fassbender plays Sands, whose passionate commitment to the cause for which he has been imprisoned and in the righteousness of dying for his political beliefs is portrayed in a central scene where he discusses the morality of the hunger strike with a visiting priest (Liam Cunningham). The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where it was given an 'Un Certain Regard' screening.
It’s a bold film that can seat two people opposite each other for nearly 20 minutes, just having a conversation. Hunger
is that movie. What’s particularly impressive is just how enthralling the scene is, and how it makes cinematic gold out of something seemingly so straightforward. Yet straightforward is something that director Steve McQueen’s debut behind the camera absolutely isn’t. Hunger
is the story of the IRA hunger strike at the Maze Prison in 1981, and it quickly pulls little punches in getting across the conditions in the prison, and the inmates’ dissatisfaction.
Hunger treads a very careful political line throughout its running time, and what emerges is a surprisingly open drama, powered by an excellent performance from Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands. As Sands embarks on his infamous hunger strike, Fassbender mesmerises in the role, leading up to the aforementioned, gripping, single conversation that’s the highlight of the film. Mark him down as a major talent to watch. Alongside Fassbender, director Steve McQueen does really quite sterling work with Hunger. It can’t have been an easy film to direct by any measure, yet he turns in a harrowing piece of cinema that leaves the judgements to the viewer. It’s challenging film making and--despite a little stumbling as it enters its final act--it’s some piece of cinema too. --Jon Foster