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Hunger is a 2008 film about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. It is written by Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen, who also directed. It was made by Blast! Films and commissioned by Channel 4 and Film4. It premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festivalmarker, winning the prestigious Caméra d'Or award for first-time filmmakers. It went on to win the Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival, best picture by the Evening Standard British Film Awards, and received 2 BAFTA nominations, winning one. The film was also nominated for 8 awards at the 2009 IFTA's winning 6 at the event.

Hunger was turned down by the Irish Film Board and has gone on to be one of the most successful Irish films. The film was co-funded by Northern Ireland Screen, Broadcast Commission of Ireland and Film 4.


The film stars Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer who led the 1981 Irish hunger strike and participated in the no wash protest (led by Brendan "The Dark" Hughes) in which Republican prisoners tried to win political status. It dramatises events in the Maze prison in the six weeks prior to Sands’ death.

The film opens with prison guard, Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) preparing to leave for work; checking under his car for bombs, putting on his uniform in the locker room and ignoring the camaraderie of his colleagues. We then see short clips of Lohan at various points throughout the day and notice his knuckles are bloodied and cut.

Davey (Brian Milligan), a new IRA prisoner arrives at the prison and, following his refusal to wear the prison uniform, he is labelled a "non-conforming prisoner" and made to strip naked, and given only a blanket. He arrives at his cell where his new roommate, Gerry (Liam McMahon), has smeared the walls with feces from floor to ceiling. The two men get to know each other and we see them living out their lives, including a visit by family members where we see Sands speak with his parents and Gerry's girlfriend sneaks a radio in by wrapping it and keeping it in her vagina.

We then see the guards forcibly and violently removing the prisoners from their cells and beating them before finally pinning them down and using scissors to cut their long hair and beards, grown as part of their no wash protest. Sands fights back and as he's being brought into the room he punches Lohan, who punches him back and then swings again, only to miss and punch the wall, causing his knuckles to bleed. He cuts Sands' hair and beard, the men throw him in the bath tub and scrub him clean before hauling him away again. Lohan is then seen having a smoke, like in the opening scenes, his hand bloodied.

Shortly after this we see a large number of riot police coming into the prison on a truck. They line up and beat their batons against their shields and scream to scare the prisoners, who are then hauled from their cells, beaten heavily, then thrown in between the lines of riot police where they are beaten with the batons by at least 10 men and then hauled before Lohan and several of his colleagues; one of whom using the same pair of latex gloves for every man and every task, probes first their anus and then their mouths. One man manages to head-butt a guard and is promptly beaten brutally by a police officer.

The next scene shows Lohan entering a retirement home where he sits with his catatonic mother, and brings her daisies. He is promptly shot in the neck by an IRA assassin and dies slumped onto his mother's lap, with her sitting motionless not knowing what happened.

Sands is then shown meeting his Priest and discussing the morality of a hunger strike. This meeting is lengthy and contains important dialogue regarding why Sands chose to do what he did and how strongly he believed in his cause. The rest of the film shows Sands well into his hunger strike, with bleeding sores all over his body, kidney failure, low blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and the inability to stand on his own by the end. Emotionally powerful, the film spares no detail in Sands' condition and suffering, as we see him get worse and continue to refuse food. In the last days, while Sands lies in a bath, a larger orderly comes in to give his usual orderly a break. The larger orderly sits next to the tub and shows Sands his knuckles, which are tattooed with the letters "UDA", for Ulster Defence Association. Sands tries to stand on his own and eventually does so with all his strength, staring defiantly at the UDA orderly who refused to help him up, but then he crumbles in a heap on the floor with no strength left to stand. The orderly carries him to his room.

Sands' parents arrive and stay there for the final days, and his mother is at his side when Sands finally loses his life.

The film explains that Sands had been elected to the British Parliament as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while he was on strike. Nine other men died with him during the seven-month strike, causing the British government to cave in to the demands of prisoner rights, despite never officially granting political status to the prisoners.



The film is notable for an unbroken 17-minute shot, in which a priest played by Liam Cunningham tries to talk Bobby Sands out of his protest. In it, the camera remains in the same position for the duration of the shot. To prepare for the scene, Cunningham moved into Michael Fassbender's apartment for a time while they practised the scene at least twelve times a day, sometimes repeating the scene fifteen times in a single day. It is the longest scene in a mainstream film.

The film premiered at Cannes, where it opened the official sidebar section, Un Certain Regard, sparking both walkouts and a standing ovation. The film was released in the UK and Ireland 31 October 2008.

Critical reception

The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Andrea Gronvall of Chicago Reader named it the 3rd best film of 2008, and Scott Foundas of LA Weekly named it the 3rd best film of 2008 (along with Che). Eric Armstrong of The Moving Arts Film Journal gave a favorable review, calling the film "...a deeply disturbing sensory experience."

Hunger was voted the best film of 2008 by Sight and Sound Magazine.Hunger won the 2009 Evening Standard British Film Awards. Director McQueen won the Carl Forman BAFTA Award for "Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer for their First Feature Film".

American film critic Armond White gave a negative review of the film stating that McQueen's "attempts to enlarge a secular story through religious references feel superficial" and that the film resembles "a self-congratulatory art project".


  3. James, Nick. "Films of 2008" Sight and Sound Magazine. January 2009
  4. "Standard success for Sands movie" 9 February 2009
  5. White, Armond (2008-03-18). "Steve McQueen's Hunger", New York Press. Retrieved on 2009-04-16

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