hunger-feb-25thBobby Sands’ 1981 hunger strike and ‘dirty protest’ in the Maze prison, Northern Island, is the subject matter of Hunger, which won its director the Golden Camera award at Cannes in 2008. McQueen, a Turner Prize winner in 1999, depicts Sands’ quest for political prisoner status using highly sophisticated and beautiful imagery. The film is not a conventional political film, arguably not political at all. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Sands is magnificent. “Hunger is a work of bold artistic invention; at the very least, its must-see status is inviolable” – Jonathan Romney, Independent on Sunday. (Cert 15)
Dir: Steve McQueen 90 mins UK/Ireland 2008

Programme Notes

Thursday, 25 February 2010


UK/Ireland 2008 92 minutes Cert. 15

The film opens with a shot of the washing of a pair of bruised hands, which belong to a warder, Lohan, from the Maze prison preparing for a day’s work. Pontius Pilate or Lady Macbeth ? His obsessive silent scrutiny of his surroundings before leaving home eloquently sets the mood of fear and distrust.

This film, which centres on the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in May 1981, does not attempt to glamorise or justify the violent acts of the terrorists, but neither does it demonize the British. There is very little narrative apart from the scene between the disapproving priest and Sands, a scene which is one continuous shot between the two men in profile, an eerie echo of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Instead we are left to observe for ourselves the terrible strain that violence imposed on Ulster, both inside and beyond the prison walls. There have been several precedents for hunger strikes, such as the suffragettes pre-WW1 and Gandhi in the 1930s but martyrdom is a concept that most of us find uncomfortable to deal with. It is a deliberate choice to use the human body as the ultimate weapon in a struggle for political change. “McQueen’s movie … paints the hunger strike as tragic but quite without tragic grandeur. It shows how dysfunctional and despairing the whole remorseless process was.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.

Hunger is the feature debut of Steve McQueen, British artist and 1999 Turner Prize winner for a video piece inspired by Buster Keaton. He was an official war artist in Iraq, and later campaigned to have portraits of fallen soldiers on postage stamps. This background has produced a film full of intense images and visual richness which we the viewers must observe and interpret for ourselves. Michael Fassbender is outstanding as Sands, he lost 18 kg in order to play the role.

“A deeply moving work of considerable moral complexity” Philip French , The Observer.

“…[restores] faith in cinema’s ability to cover history free from the bounds of texts and personalities. It’s not an easy watch – but it’s an invigorating one. Long live McQueen.” Dave Calhoun, Time Out.

Bobby Sands – Michael Fassbender
Father Moran – Liam Cunningham
Raymond Lohan – Stuart Graham
Davey Gillen – Brian Milligan

Director – Steve McQueen
Screenplay – Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh
Cinematography – Sean Bobbitt
Producers – Laura Hastings-Smith, Robin Gutch


“Amazing direction!”


“One of the most astonishing, faultless and accomplished pieces of film making I think I have ever seen.”

“Such a powerful and concentrated film. Tremendous use of visual imagery to convey the horrific narrative.”

“A brilliantly photographed and skilful narrative that showed just how far some [people] would go for their cause.”

“Very powerful. Unusually gripping for a film with relatively little narrative and action.”

“Brilliant and immensely powerful. [I’m] glad I made myself see it [but I’m] not in any mood to discuss this film further, just now.”

“A lesson the terrible inhumanity of systems like prisons and riot police where people are ordered and employed to beat and mistreat others. One notable exception was the medical orderly who tried in his own small way to care for Bobby.”

“A very powerful film but not one I would have chosen to watch.”

“Impressive. What a pity that I didn’t understand the main dialogue – subtitles please!”

“A visually interesting film that had some ambitious acting set pieces. Mary’s talk gave us enough historical context to understand the film’s historical background.”

“Harrowing and tragic – but even-handed? A few bombings and knee-cappings would have put a different perspective on things, I suspect.”

“Too narrow. Showed what it was like to be an IRA prisoner and die of hunger but the action put pressure on [both] the Government and the IRA – and it was also, as I remember, a media circus.”

“Who’s going to be the one to say it was no good what he did?”

“As bad as I feared. Like a mixture of suffering-porn and a love letter to the prisoners. [I’m] amazed that people could see this as non-political. As bad as The Wind That Shakes The Barley.”


A:25, B:6, C:1, D:0, E:1 to give 91%