Frances Winston found ‘Bobby Sands 66 Days‘ a hard watch at times, but feels it is a film that informs and educates about a period in Irish/UK history that is often glossed over.
Directed by Brendan J Byrne – Starring: Bobby Sands, Gerry Adams, Fintan O’Toole and a host of other talking heads
At one point in this documentary, journalist and author, Fintan O’Toole, comments something to the effect that anyone who lived through the era of the hunger strikes in 1981, no matter where they were living, couldn’t fail to be affected by them.
If you aren’t aware of them, they were started by Irish Republican Prisoners in Northern Ireland, in a bid to have their special category status as political prisoners reinstated.
Although 10 men died, the most high profile was undoubtedly Bobby Sands. He was the first man to strike, and was elected as an MP in the midst of it. The title of this film actually refers to how many days he was on hunger strike for before passing away.
This documentary sets the scene by explaining the political landscape of the time, through footage and contributions from talking heads, before giving us Sands story.
Although he was the most high profile hunger-striker, there is no footage of him, and very few photos, as he had spent a significant amount of his 27 years in prison. Therefore, Byrne utilises reconstruction and animation, alongside Sands’ own words from his diary to tell the tale.
O’Toole does have a point, and regardless of your political affiliations, it is not pleasant to watch and listen to the effects of starvation on the human body, and to know that these men undertook this willingly. There is also a lot of footage from a pre-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland, that isn’t always easy to watch.
What is surprising is that there is far more to this story than perhaps people, even those who remember the reports at the time, were aware of. The complexities of the politics involved are truly mind-boggling, and I would imagine that every person who watches this will learn something about the events of that period that they didn’t know.
Unfortunately, this does suffer somewhat from the lack of Sands’ footage. While this is unavoidable, it does make him appear almost mythical, rather than a real-life entity. The fact that he is discussed in terms of martyrdom by many of the contributors does little to assuage this.
I actually don’t think I’ve ever watched a documentary focused on one person, where they feature so little, other than reconstructions and occasional pictures. And while it does allow Byrne to get creative with his visuals, at times it detracts from the impact of the piece.
Not an easy watch, but an extremely interesting one, this documents a period of history that is often glossed over, and also shows the audience the bigger picture behind the events.
Not just for history buffs, any Irish person should find this of interest.
In cinemas August 5th!