Film tackles IRA leader Bobby Sands hunger strike

Fri May 16, 2008 9:14am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The director of a powerful film about the final days of Bobby Sands said he had not made a hero of the IRA prisoner whose death in a 1981 hunger strike made him one of the most prominent symbols of opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland.

"Hunger," the graphic, often brutal feature debut by British artist Steve McQueen, screened at the Cannes film festival late on Thursday and has impressed critics with its portrayal of the violence and horror of life in the notorious Maze prison.

Some predicted that the film would prove controversial because of what they saw as McQueen's sympathetic treatment of Sands, played by Irish actor Michael Fassbender.

"The sympathetic portrait within this excellent film will cause much debate, and outrage," wrote the Independent newspaper.

McQueen said the only controversy surrounding "Hunger" was one created by the media.

"If anyone comes out of there thinking that I'm thinking that Bobby Sands is a martyr should basically watch the film again and look and listen," he told Reuters in an interview.

Sands, convicted of firearms offences, was elected as a member of the British parliament during his hunger strike, ensuring worldwide media coverage of his death. His image still looks down from a giant mural on Belfast's Falls Road.

"In 'Hunger' there is no simplistic notion of 'hero' or 'martyr' or 'victim'," McQueen adds in production notes.   Continued...

<p>Fresh flowers lay by the grave of Irish Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands who died in 1981 in the Miltown Cemetary of the Falls Road in Belfast October 27, 2001. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell</p>