This years winner for the Anti-Date Movie Of The Year at the BAFTA’s is already a given, Steve McQueen’s Hunger will kill that burgeoning relationship stone dead. There is nothing like a dirty protest to turn a date off. But what is interesting about Hunger is the political context of the film. History is apparently written by the winners, but what if there aren’t any winners? The reality of Northern Ireland is a bitter struggle followed by complex but on the whole civilised round table talks. Much as there isn’t a film called CONVENTION, about some white people around a table in Geneva, I am guessing we are not going to see STORMONT, or THE NORTHERN IRELAND PEACE PROCESS. So what good does Hunger do now?

In this controversial piece of op/ed in the Guardian David Cox argues that there seems something wrong about Hunger being funded by mainly British taxpayers money. Whilst I think for once the UK Film Council’s money has gone into a strikingly good film, I do have some sympathy for the argument (less so for the way in which he makes it and his views on torture). There is a feeling that it is a sop to middle class British guilt that paints Great Britain, in their guise as the English/Unionists, as the cinematic bad guys in Northern Ireland. They are the guys running the prison, they are they men in uniform and they are backed by a government. And while McQueen tries very hard to show the futility and provocation inherent in Bobby Sands and his compatriots actions, the film does spend the last twenty minutes lovingly watching someone starve themselves to death* without once referring to any of the crimes committed by the prisoners.

Its not that I am looking for balance in cinema, far from it. And perhaps the balance that these films create make up for the pretty consistent meida bias in reporting the troubles (interesting Roy Greenslade lecture from 1998 on the potential damage caused by the bias). But it will continue to be this way as the IRA and their methods and martyrs fit the cinematic myth so much better than any Unionist tale could (including the one David Cox suggests). I cannot say I ever expected James Bond to go in and sort out Northern Ireland, but even in the throes of the troubles it was hard to paint the IRA in the cinema as wholly bad guys. They are the underdogs, the individuals fighting a massed English army, the rugged individual vs the faceless mass of authority. If Irish baddies were spirited up they were usually too mad for the IRA: Tommy lee Jones in Blown Away, Sean Bean in Patriot Games or Brad Pitt in the Devil’s Own (though he may have been kicked out for a ropey accent). But if the history books are written by the winners, and if both sides have sort of won, the movies seem to be falling solidly on one side only. This isn’t surprising, we tend not to go to the cinema for a complex dissection of a very messy historical conflict. But from a retrospective view via cinema, the Brits are the Nazi’s in this one: you half expect them to break the fourth wall and wonder when they were made the bad guys (its not as if we put skulls on out uniforms!) Hunger tries to touch at some of these complexities – but even in its seventeen minute conversation sequence it is Bobby Sands talking to a Catholic priest, peaceful vs violent Republicans. I’m not sure there is an easy solution to this, though I wonder which British actor would have the balls to take up one of the toughest roles of the 20th Century in PEACE PROCESS as John Major.

*Really, really not the moment to cop a feel of your date. If you still have popcorn left you might just survive.