Socialist Worker

Hunger: The mundane evil at the heart of the British state

by Chris Bambery
Issue No. 2126

Bobby Sands discussing the planned hunger strike with a Catholic priest in a scene from the film

Bobby Sands discussing the planned hunger strike with a Catholic priest in a scene from the film

Looking back the shocking thing is just how mundane it was to visit Northern Ireland’s H Blocks of Long Kesh – or “the Maze” as the British called it.

After entering the main entrance we were driven through various security gates to meet, eventually, the Republican prisoners who were demanding political status.

At the end of the visits we left to go back home. But we knew the prisoners would take off the uniforms they wore for visits and would return naked to their cells to face anal searches and possible beatings.

Their cells would have no furniture, nothing except a mattress, a blanket and a bible.

Hunger is a gripping and moving film. From the very start I felt I was in the presence of the evil which my friend had returned to when he left that visiting room.

Hunger took me right back to the first hunger strike by Republican prisoners at the close of 1980, which ended in failure, and the second, led by Bobby Sands, which began on 1 March 1981 and ended with his death after 66 days without food.

At the centre of the film is a conversation between Bobby Sands, brilliantly played by Michael Fassbender, and a Catholic priest, played by Liam Cunningham.

It’s a lengthy debate which would never be allowed in a contemporary Hollywood film, and leaves you wondering whether Sands should go on hunger strike or not.

This is not because of morality, but because of Sands’ motives and whether there is the slightest hope of achieving anything from Margaret Thatcher’s government.

The hunger strike failed but Bobby Sands’ election as an MP began the electoral rise of Sinn Fein and also brought a realisation from both the British state and the Republicans that neither could defeat the other.

No one knows what Bobby Sands would think of the IRA leadership today sitting in government with the Democratic Unionists but, as this film makes clear, that was not what he fought and died for.

I have rarely encountered a film which draws you into a debate to which there are no easy answers or a film which took me right back to that night in Belfast when the sound of bin lids banging summoned us onto the streets.

Director: Steve McQueen
In cinemas now

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Article information

Tue 4 Nov 2008, 18:30 GMT
Issue No. 2126
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