Hunger (2008)

Visual artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen made his cinema debut with this provocative portrait of Irish republican prisoners defying the British government.

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“A lacerating portrait of an agonised period of British and Irish history.”
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 2008

In 1981 republican prisoners in Northern Ireland defied British PM Margaret Thatcher, their so-called ‘dirty protest’ intensifying into hunger strikes as they sought special ‘political’ status.

Director Steve McQueen’s previous experience was in gallery installations, yet he proved an alert and even-handed cinematic storyteller, capturing not only the extraordinary force of will demonstrated by ill-fated leading prisoner Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender, who underwent significant weight loss for the role), but also the callous murder of off-duty prison officers by the IRA.

Unafraid to adopt an unconventional dramatic structure – notably Sands’s lengthy soul-searching conversation with a concerned priest – McQueen’s film moves from shocking realist authenticity to inward contemplation as it surveys human loss in the face of unshakeable ideological conviction.

Terry George’s Some Mother’s Son (1996) approaches the same historical events from the perspective of a prisoner’s mother, played by Helen Mirren.

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