Bobby Sands: 66 Days
Bobby Sands’ name will be vaguely familiar to most: in 1981 the 27-year-old IRA man died after refusing food for 66 days. His death marked a shift in the struggle for Irish independence, proving that their cause no longer had to be steeped in blood and violence. This documentary from Brendan J Byrne is a close examination of the events leading up to his death and the man behind the myth.
Told mostly through talking head interviews, with everyone from former IRA men to members of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, over harrowing footage from the Troubles, 66 Days is structured as an ominous countdown: from Day One, accompanied by the prisoner’s recorded weight, to Day 66. The film walks us through the Irish nationalist’s murky early life with input from childhood friends and from historians, painting a comprehensive picture of the world and culture that Sands came from, contextualising his sacrifice for those unfamiliar with Irish history.
The editing is superb: images of the carnage in Belfast, the aftermath of IRA bombings are intercut with those of peaceful marches and everyday life, and to those of us who have never experienced life in what amounts to an active warzone, it’s an eye-opening experience. Ultimately though, Bryne’s film’s triumph is in its refusal to take sides, neither inflating nor downplaying Sands’ life and role in ending the Troubles. Extracts from the man’s diary are related to us throughout, an attempt to depict him as an artist, a poet, and it paints a compelling picture but he is not as romanticised here as he could be. Tales of Catholic persecution are presented just as often as IRA murders are and while it’s difficult to walk away from the film with no empathy for the prisoner’s struggle, the documentary leaves us in no doubt of the IRA’s status as a terrorist group.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days will no doubt be divisive, already it has garnered criticism from families of IRA victims, but it’s nonetheless a gripping rendition of one of the most influential figures in modern Irish history.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days is released nationwide on 5th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for Bobby Sands: 66 Days here: