Bobby eventually decides to lead a hunger strike to oppose the British occupation of Northern Ireland and the inhumane treatment of himself and his fellow inmates. Bobby is the first to stop eating, lasting 66 days before dying. We learn that his story was so inspirational, that he was elected to Parliament while in prison and nine other inmates followed his example before the British government unofficially met most of the prisoners' demands.
This is a biopic about real-life IRA member Bobby Sands - it won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
The year is 1981 and the British government is in the midst of a years-long struggle with the members of the IRA - a militant/terrorist Catholic group that seeks to have North Ireland gain its independence from the United Kingdom. As a result of the violent tactics used by the IRA, the British government has refused to grant their members special political status, treating them as common criminals when they are caught.
The film first follows British prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) who, every morning, checks to make sure there are no Irish assassins on his street or bombs under his car. He is a guard at the prison where many IRA members are being held. The prisoners (with support of the IRA and sympathizers on the outside) are engaging in a "blanket and no wash" protest, where they refuse to wear any clothes or bathe themselves. The prisoners taunt the British, wipe their feces on the wall, urinate in hallways, and take every opportunity to assault their guards. In turn, the British officers callously beat their prisoners and use somewhat violent methods to clean and clothe them.
We eventually meet IRA member Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who is the de facto leader in the prison. He causes the most trouble, and often leads his fellow inmates to resist the British people. One day, a swat team enters the prison and savagely beat the prisoners so that they can't resist a cavity search. At this point, Bobby decides the blanket and no wash protest isn't effective. We also watch as Raymond is assassinated by an IRA assailant while he is visiting his elder mother in a nursing home.
Bobby requests to speak to his priest, Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). Bobby says that he will lead a hunger strike, where one-at-a-time, he and his fellow inmates will starve themselves to death until the British capitulate to their demands (Bobby refuses to negotiate with them). Bobby notes that it will work (unlike a similar strike in the past) since they will be doing it one-at-a-time, so the rest can stay strong while the martyr wastes away (whereas, in the past hunger strike, they lost their resolve since they all fasted at once and collectively became too weak to continue). Father Moran tries many tactics to dissuade Bobby, stating that the IRA wants to negotiate with the British, saying Bobby will leave his son and the sons of the other men without fathers, and accusing him of simply engaging in these tactics for personal glory.
Bobby then tells Father Moran a tale about his childhood. While on a soccer trip, he stopped in the beautiful town of Donegal. There, he and his friends find a mortally wounded baby deer dying in a river. A local priest spots the children and the deer, and assumes that they are the ones who injured it. As the priest approaches, Bobby drowns the deer, thus setting it free and placing all the punishment on his shoulders. Bobby says he knew that he did the right thing then, and knows that this is what he must do now in service of better prison conditions and a free Northern Ireland. Father Moran stops trying to dissuade him, but also says he will not return to support him either.
We watch as Bobby engages in a hunger strike. He slowly wastes away, even getting to a point where a blanket is too heavy for his body and he can't walk. The prison staff generally takes care of him, although radio reports reveal the British government remains unsympathetic. Bobby's parents visit him in the prison and his mother is there to watch over him as he passes away. Bobby dies while remembering himself, happy and free in the town of Donegal.
In the post-script, we are informed that Bobby fasted for 66 days before passing away, and that nine other prisoners participated and died after him. While he was on his hunger strike, the inspired citizens of northern Ireland elected him to the British Parliament (symbolically, of course). It also noted that over a dozen other British guards were assassinated during the course of the hunger strike. Ultimately, the British government gave in to all the prisoner's demands, though never formerly granting them official special political status. Northern Ireland remains a part of the UK to this day, though peace has largely been reached.