Hunger - Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham in Steve McQueen’s controversial film about the 1981 IRA hunger strike

While Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke’s stellar performances in Milk and The Wrestler have (rightly) been attracting a great deal of fuss, one great acting performance from last year has been overlooked by the major awards – Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s harrowing and highly controversial drama, Hunger. Then again, the first feature film from Turner prize-winning artist McQueen (no relation to the screen legend) couldn’t be more different from the kinds of movies that usually gain Oscar kudos.

Closer in spirit to an art gallery installation than to Hollywood, McQueen’s film plunges the viewer into the heart of the notorious H-Blocks of Belfast’s Maze Prison in the early 1980s and unflinchingly depicts the squalor and brutality of the jail during the IRA prisoners ‘dirty protest’, while Fassbender – who lost 14kg for the role – stoically portrays Sands’ physical decline. (Released 23rd February)

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Is Steve McQueen’s film a balanced view of the Troubles? Read more.