In the spring of 1981 Irish Republican Bobby Sands' 66-day hunger strike brought the attention of the world to his cause. Drawing on an Irish Republican tradition of martyrdom, Sands' ...
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John D. Barnett
In the spring of 1981 Irish Republican Bobby Sands' 66-day hunger strike brought the attention of the world to his cause. Drawing on an Irish Republican tradition of martyrdom, Sands' emotive, non-violent protest to be classified as a political prisoner became a defining moment in 20th century Irish history. Sands' death after 66 days marked a key turning point in the relationship between Britain and Ireland, and brought a global spotlight to the Northern Irish conflict which eventually triggered international efforts to resolve it. 66 DAYS is a major feature length documentary exploring Sands' remarkable life and death, 35 years on from his ultimate sacrifice. The spine of the film is comprised of Sands' own words, drawn from his hunger strike diary, a unique insight into the man and his beliefs as he embarked on his final journey. Directed by award winning filmmaker Brendan J Byrne and produced by Trevor Birney of Fine Point Films, this landmark non-fiction feature film will have ...
Potentially a great film - let down by historical bias.
This film had potential to present an unbiased view of the history leading up to Bobby Sands' death and the political results of it, but chose to go down a staunchly one-sided path, portraying Sands as a martyr, a hero, a freedom fighter and an artist, while demonising the Unionist side of the community (I'm a firm believer that NI is one, not two communities).
On many occasions, Sands was compared directly with Che Guevara, with one scene morphing the two images together as if one was the reincarnation of the other. Other comparisons with Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh and other revolutionaries were woven into the storyline.
The film glanced over Sands' offences and why he was in prison, hinting that his imprisonment was politically motivated and a minor offence of "having gun parts": Sands was arrested after a gun battle with the RUC following a bomb attack on a furniture showroom, in which it was destroyed, which he and fellow hunger striker Joe McDonnell had planned for weeks. (In a previous IRA bomb attack on the same business, four civilians, including two babies, were killed).
The portrayal of Unionists and Loyalists in this film is also likely to cause anger: they were portrayed as Orange Order or Loyalist flute band members, comically bouncing down the roads; as firebrand preachers spouting hatred; or as corrupt politicians. The film stopped short at saying "All Protestants have big noses and their eyes are too far apart." Yes, there are people like this, but they represent a very small proportion of the Protestant side of the community, and most people who call themselves Protestants would distance themselves.
While Sands may have been an artist and a poet, and there is no doubt he used his artistry to promote his politics (this is still done today), to equate his death to a the ultimate artistic performance is without foundation, except as a posthumous elevation of his status as a Republican martyr.
The biggest issue this film has is not what it says, but what it doesn't say. There were Sands' reasons for being arrested which the film dumbed down, but there was also the IRA pressure on hunger strikers' families not to visit their dying sons for fear they would be talked out of doing what they did, with reports at the time that families were threatened at gunpoint. The film claims that Sands' effectively ran the hunger strike himself, and the IRA leadership didn't have any part in events. Gerry Adams' involvement in the coordination was ignored (but then, he was never a member of the IRA).
Overall, this is a disappointing film if you're looking for historical facts and interpretation of those facts: you're only shown a selected half of the history. It's a shame: this had all the potential to be an absolutely great film. The production was excellent, the use of historical footage was expertly woven with modern footage, and that shot especially for the film.
As an addendum to this review, when we left the cinema, we noticed quite a number of the audience leaving in tears.
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