The H block in Belfast’s Maze Prison.
This film captures the development and escalation of protest by the ‘political’ prisoners held here as things moved through ‘The ‘Blanket protest’ onto ‘The Dirty Protest” and finally to ‘The Hunger Strikes’ that claimed Bobby Sands and eight of his compatriot’s lives.
As the end credits of the film show, the enemy, in the form of Margaret Thatcher was ‘not for turning’ and did not grant political status to these men that she considered no more than murderers. They did, however, lead to many concessions – bit by bit.
This astounding movie falls into three very clear sections; the gut wrenching blanket and dirty protest; a long and deeply personal conversation (in one 20 minute take) between Sands and his priest where Sands is asked to justify and then walk away from the impending hunger strike; and finally Sands’ ordeal itself.
Each section has a different pace and personality. Each is desperate in its own way.
This film pulls few punches. The stench of shit is almost palpable in the opening act and the way in which Michael Fassbender brings Sands’ death to the screen is almost unbearable.
But the real triumph of the film is that it takes no political sides and makes no judgements but does not sit on the fence. How? Because it invokes the viewer to do that themselves. Sands is neither a figure to pity or to vilify. It really is quite remarkable that the artist Steve McQueen can achieve this so consistently.
And this is art with a capital A. Every scene is stunningly rendered. The pace, at times snail-like, allows you to consider in real detail the situation these men found themselves in (or created however you want to look at it).
Fassbender’s performance is miraculous.
McQueen though, is the star of the show. One scene in particular when the men slop out by pouring their night’s urine under the doors of the corridor simultaneously is quite beautiful, as is the Hirst-like art that some of them create from their faeces (that’s what makes up the poster image).
Film of the year. No contest.
Incidentally we saw it in the DCA’s Cinema 2. What a cracking screen.
(As we scoffed coffee and fudge doughnuts. How’s that for irony?)