movie film review | chris tookey


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  Hunger Review
Tookey's Rating
3 /10
Average Rating
7.89 /10
Michael Fassbender (pictured), Liam Cunningham , Stuart Graham
Full Cast >

Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh

Released: 2008
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK/ Ireland
Colour: C
Length: 129

More pro-terrorist propaganda.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Preposterously over-praised by critics and a depressingly predictable winner of awards at Cannes, Toronto, Flanders and Venice, this first film by uber-trendy, Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen adopts a supposedly “experimental” structure in order to worship at the shrine of terrorism. It’s the fluffy-headed Left’s version of a mediaeval triptych.

The first third establishes the UK judicial system as vicious, bullying oppression aimed at torturing defenceless people for their principles. The middle is a lengthy dialogue between IRA terrorist Bobby Sands and a Catholic priest, during which Sands establishes his case for self-martyrdom. The final section depicts Sands’ subsequent suffering in the most gruelling detail since Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

Like Terry George’s 1996 movie Some Mother’s Son, it is a love letter to Sands (played with commendable authenticity by Michael Fassbender) and the other nine men who died as a result of their hunger strike. Like George, McQueen – who was 11 when Sands committed suicide - simply takes it as read that convicted IRA terrorists were prisoners of war, not criminals and murderers.

The bad guys are, as usual, the Protestants. True, we see a Protestant prison warder gunned down, but not before there has been plenty of footage to show that he was guilty of beating up Catholic prisoners and torturing them. It’s impossible not to feel that he deserves it. The false implication is that all IRA violence was in self-defence, and that virtually every prison warder and policeman in Northern Ireland was a sadistic psychopath.

There is footage of a young Protestant riot policeman weeping at the thrashing and kicking of prisoners, but he does nothing about it, and it is clear that he is in a minority of one.

The nearest the film comes to balance is when, in the one lengthy dialogue scene, a Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham) disputes the efficacy of Sands’ hunger strike with the man himself. But even here there is no hint of disagreement by the supposedly moderate priest with the violent methods espoused by Sands and his fellow-terrorists. Indeed, the clergyman opines that the British authorities “despise Republicanism” – whereas, of course, numerous people in political authority within Britain were sympathetic to Irish republicanism, without taking the view that this meant supporting the IRA.

There is, of course, absolutely no mention of Bobby Sands’ firearms offences, nor of his first prison sentence - for armed robbery and attempted armed robbery at two petrol service stations - nor of his being found guilty, after only six months of release, of involvement in a bombing in Dunmorry and a subsequent gun battle with police. The implication is that he and others like him were imprisoned for their political beliefs.

The inconvenient truth is that the second hunger striker to kill himself, Francis Hughes, had been sentenced to 83 years for IRA crimes including the murder of one British Army soldier and wounding of another, as well as various gun and bomb attacks over a six-year period. It emerged after his death that Hughes' fingerprints were also found on a car used during the killing of a 77 year old Protestant woman, Hester McMullan, in 1977.

The third hunger-striker to perish was Raymond McCreesh, who had been sentenced to fourteen years for attempted murder, possession of a rifle and ammunition and IRA membership, and was captured during an ambush on a British Army patrol. The sixth was Martin Hurson, convicted of involvement in three attempts to blow people up with land mines. On all these extremists and their potentially lethal crimes, McQueen maintains a highly significant silence.

As usual in this kind of propaganda, the bogeyman is Mrs Thatcher, whose comments on the criminality of the IRA are quoted ironically throughout. I have yet to see a British film about politics in which she is not demonized. So, unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the compromise deal she offered over the hunger strikers, which was turned down by the IRA leadership and might have saved six of Sands’ fellow suicides.

Firmness on the government side about bargaining with terrorists is portrayed as pig-headedness. Sands’ obstinacy is depicted as heroism. There is, of course, no mention at all of his determination to shoot and bomb the Northern Ireland majority into a Socialist republic, whether they voted for it or not – which some might consider less than heroic. Nor is there any hint that Sands’ decision to hunger-strike was initially opposed by the IRA leadership outside the prison, until they came to appreciate its propaganda value.

The imagery is carefully chosen to give the impression that Sands was a martyr, and shots of Sands’ starved body create deliberate echoes of Jewish victims in Nazi concentration camps and El Greco’s pictures of the crucifixion. The film-makers’ sympathies throughout are with terrorists, naturally, and not their tens of thousands of victims who, unlike Bobby Sands, were not granted the choice to live or die.

The final descent into hackneyed, film-school symbolism may strike even those in sympathy with McQueen’s proselytising for violent extremism as banal.

The bigoted, the mischievous and the gullible – into which categories, regrettably, fall the vast majority of people currently commenting on film - are certain to swallow McQueen’s analysis, and will think themselves clever in drawing the clearly suggested parallels with fundamentalist Muslim prisoners, who have also been willing to sacrifice their bodies for what they too imagine are justified political purposes.

Even now, some ambitious young British director is presumably planning his production of Thirst: The Unacknowledged Heroism of the 7/7 Bombers’ Search for Justice. After all, it’s pretty much guaranteed funding, and almost universally favourable reviews.

Key to Symbols