Hunger * * * * *
Director: Steve McQueen.
Screenplay: Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Liam McMahon, Brian Milligan, Stuart Graham, Karen Hassan, Helen Madden, Des McAleer, Frank McCusker, Rory Mullen.
In 2011, “Shame” was released. It was a powerful piece of cinema and one of the most provocative and controversial film’s of the year. It was also one of the very best. But if you look back to 2008 and this previous collaboration with director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender, you’ll realise that provocative and hard-hitting filmmaking is something these two, seemingly excel at.
In Northern Ireland, 1981, Irish revolutionary inmates in the Maze prison begin a protest to attain political status and not to be seen as criminals. Their demands are refused by the British Government so one man, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), leads a hunger strike. This was a defiant act against tyrannical British rule and one that would reverberate internationally.
I find it hard to be subjective in my views of the atrocities that the British Government imposed upon the Irish revolutionary movement. I’m disgusted and appalled at some of the parliamentary decisions and I make no excuses for my prejudices toward Margaret Thatcher either. The hunger strike of 1981, is a shameful and atrocious piece of history, of which, she was at the forefront. It’s a time in history that many will want to forget, but here, director Steve McQueen paints a vivid and unflinching portrayal of these harsh times and conditions. He starts by informing us that 2,187 people have been killed in “the troubles” since 1969 and that the British Govt have withdrawn the political status of all paramilitary prisoners. Irish republicans in the Maze Prison are on a ‘blanket’ and ‘no wash’ protest. We are then introduced to a prison guard, bathing his bloodied knuckles in water. Primarily, the warden we follow seems to be torn and struggling. However, it’s soon apparent that these prison wardens are only upholding the state, so sympathy wains. There is a struggle at heart here and the British Govt has a lot to answer for. Rearing her ugly head, Margaret Thatcher is overheard on a radio broadcast, refusing to accept any form of “political or criminal violence”. Anyone familiar with her time in office will be aware of her sheer hypocrisy here. She was known as “The Iron Lady“, no better than a fascist and throughout her time in power, was the very catalyst for many wrongdoings. My opinion may come across as biased but the atrocities that these young men faced in the fight for freedom is abhorrent. What this film has in it’s ultimate favour though, is that it doesn’t preach. It states the facts and for this, McQueen deserves the utmost credit and respect. Despite the grim material, we are afforded moments of artistic beauty; McQueen lingers long on shots and uses dialogue sparsely. At one point though, he film’s a highly impressive 22-minute conversation about semantics and political rhetoric and does 16-minutes of it without cuts. It’s a bold move that could stop the film in it’s tracks but actually, what it does, is reinforce the belief that this is a highly artistic and confident filmmaker you are witnessing. He even takes his time (about half an hour) to introduce our protagonist Bobby Sands and it’s here, he is aided immeasurably by his lead actor; Michael Fassbender’s transformation from a passionate healthy prisoner to one of starved frailty is astonishing and it’s easy to see why he made a name for himself after this. He truly is one of the very best and bravest actors around at present.
Rarely have political drama’s been so raw, unnerving and emotionally devastating. This is by no means easy viewing but it’s certainly important and essential viewing and it heralded the arrival of a visionary director and intense performer.
McQueen manages that rare achievement of delivering a piece of work that is both brutal and harsh yet touching and quite beautiful. This is raw and unflinching material that is told candidly and without reservation. Simply stunning.