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Stars: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham, Brian Milligan

Director: Steve McQueen

Two pictures in one. The first half of this harrowing film concentrates on the atrocities wrought on a new IRA prisoner (Milligan) in the Maze Prison's notorious H Block in 1980. Most people will really have no idea that conditions and frequent beatings were as bad as this. The knuckles of Officer Lohan (Graham) - how can he get crumbs on his lap from eating sausage, egg and bacon? - are red raw from the drubbings he administers: but retribution is around the corner.

The second half of the film concentrates on hunger striker Bobby Sands (Fassbender) and his battle to improve conditions in the prison. Supposed highlight of this section is a long conversation between Sands and a down-to-earth priest (Cunningham), but this does no more than scratch the surface of the problem, and achieves little. The IRA men see themselves as freedom fighters, the prison staff see them as terrorists: there's just no common ground.

Much of the brutality is tough to watch, and the film's value is chiefly as an educational document rather than as entertainment. The prisoners' little smuggling games, however, do provide some scant relief from a drama that's ever-worthy but just too intense and unrelenting to affect any emotions other than horror and revulsion.

David Quinlan

UK/Northern Ireland 2008. UK Distributor: Icon. Fujicolor.
95 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Oct 2008