DRAMA; 1hr 36min
STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
To die for: from left, Fassbender and Cunningham
With the scrupulous technique of the artist he is, director Steve McQueen glides assuredly through his grievous and shaming drama. Set in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison in 1981, Enda Walsh’s screenplay draws from the terrible events that take place when IRA leading light Bobby Sands (Fassbender) spearheads a hunger strike in which he and nine other men will die. The men are protesting the withdrawal of their political status by the British government, and their horrendous Blanket and No-Wash policy has not been enough.
Building to the strike, McQueen creates a monastic, minimally dialogued atmosphere at shocking variance with the inhuman conditions, in which the prisoners are scarecrows zealously sustained by their cause. For Sands, the strike is about a freedom he defends with fierce articulateness in a dialogue with a visiting priest (Cunningham) that is the film’s ethical core. His purity of intent is absolute and watching him die is ghastly: as an actor, Fassbender is as committed to the rigours of his role as Sands was to his bone-deep beliefs.