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  Hunger Difference Of Opinion
Year: 2008
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon, Frank McCusker, Lalor Roddy, Helen Madden, Des McAleer, Ben Peel, Rory Mullen, Billy Clarke, Ciaran Flynn, B.J. Hogg, Karen Hassan
Genre: Drama, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is 1981 and the Troubles in Northern Ireland have claimed the lives of over two thousand people since 1969, with no end in sight now the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is unwilling to back down and agree to the republicans' demands. Those inmates at the Maze Prison see themselves as political prisoners, something the British authorities refuse to comply with, as in their view their acts of violence are criminal and nothing more. The stand-off has resulted in increasingly savage tactics on both sides, which leads republican prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) to see the opportunity to take radical action...

The subject of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is still a controversial one, but artist Steve McQueen was never one to shy away from a challenge, so his first feature, as opposed to the video installations he had made before, tackled the last six weeks in the life of Sands, who at the time of his death was one of the most famous people in Britain and Ireland. The question that McQueen posed, if he posed any at all, was how did it feel to put yourself through this hell on earth for your ideology, and in that realm he left no detail unexplored, putting the audience as close to most of them would ever want to get to a dirty protest or a hunger strike.

Sands doesn't become a key figure in the film until about the halfway mark, but before that McQueen made it clear he was not making this to lionise or disparage any side, simply to recreate the atmosphere of the day, and what it was like inside that prison. We start by following one of the guards (Stuart Graham) as he prepares for work, wordlessly dressing, eating his breakfast, then most tellingly checking under his car for a bomb, not paranoia, but a precaution he has been instructed to take. We then cut to later on, after seeing the guard look alienated among his fellow officers, as he has bleeding knuckles and it doesn't take much thought to put two and two together to perceive how he got those.

Further on, we see those beatings meted out to the striking prisoners, who receive their attacks ostensibly as a way to control them: this is all about how the flesh of the inmates became both the site of the infliction of pain and order, and the weapon they used against their oppressors, so they smear shit over the walls of their cells, ensure their piss drains out into the corridor where it has to be cleaned up every day, and eventually the hunger strikes begin. Even those not in prison use their bodies in the fight against the authorities, concealing messages from home and even a radio there to be passed on during visiting hours, yet search for much in the way of politics, which is what the republicans wished to place on the table, and the film is lacking.

The centrepiece of this is two single take, over fifteen minute-long shots of Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham), discussing the situation over a cigarette or two, a sequence that becomes the most riveting part of the work as it shows the intelligence on both sides that could easily be lost at the time amidst the killings and brutality. It marks the turning point for Sands as he makes it understood that he is willing to die for his cause, and for the moderates the priest represents who wish him to keep talking, keep pushing for negotiations because he does not wish anyone else to expire in the name of the conflict. What does not enter into it much is religion, simply a few pat references, as if to say that by this point Christ did not have much of a say either way, but then compassion looks to have been forced out by both extremes. The final act sees Sands' gruelling deterioration, McQueen conveying regret that if the dead man had chosen another way to make his stand, he would have been a far greater asset alive as leniency was quietly introduced. Music by David Holmes and Leo Abrahams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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