Hunger

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Director: Steve McQueen; Release date: out now

Hunger is a remarkable, challenging account of the infamous H blocks of Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland, the events leading up to the hunger strike and death of Irish Republican Bobby Sands.

However, it is not the hunger strike equivalent to In the Name of the Father. That film about the Guildford Four stuck to pretty standard film drama techniques.

This film is very different, McQueen is an acclaimed (Turner Prize winning) artist turned filmmaker. For him the visual plays a huge part in creating atmosphere. The film takes a slow, penetrating look at what it is like to be an inmate in the cold dark hell of a cell smeared with excreta wearing only a blanket, awaiting the beating and humiliation that is surely coming when you hear your name card being removed from the slot outside your cell.

Throughout much of the film there is little dialogue, and deeply taken breaths often provide the vocal background to this brutal world.

Using the same technique it portrays the uncomprehending anger and disgust of the prison officer, an anger that gives way to violence which ultimately leads to the officer's destruction.

There is one exception to this, a 20-minute scene involving Sands and a Catholic priest in deep debate about whether he should go on hunger strike. The scene is made powerful by the fact that both men seem to make utter sense, and you are given the freedom to decide who is right, and who is wrong.

We see little of Sands' personality. We are not drawn into liking or disliking him. It is his ideas we are encouraged to think about, though it is impossible not to be struck by his courage.

McQueen says he is not in the business of making up people's minds for them, although he does say, "When I was a child growing up in 1981...there were three things that influenced me: the Brixton riots, Tottenham winning the FA Cup - which was fantastic - and Bobby Sands."

In a very powerful way he has drawn on that influence to produce something much more powerful than any hagiography could ever be.

Having said that, this is not an easy film to watch and is made even harder by the slow lingering death of Sands, which is portrayed in such a harrowing unsentimental way that at times I found myself having to look away.

I remember thoroughly enjoying In the Name of the Father, a fantastic romp through the failures of the British justice system. There was no romp here, and enjoyable is not something I would begin to describe this as, but it connects and challenges in a way that that film didn't and indeed very few films do.