I was asked to view the film ‘Bobby Sands – 66 Days’ which is in effect a video diary of the hunger strikes from Bobby Sands’ viewpoint.
For most people who watch a film or read a book, the early section is what either gets your attention or forms a negative opinion of the entire work.
This film is one hour 45 minutes long but it is 16 minutes in before the proper context of Provisional IRA violence gets featured. It is a very poor start.
When the voiceover intones that Sands is “ready to face death alone” you very quickly get the general drift.
We do get clips from commentators and numerous anecdotes from colleagues, but it is often Sands the poet rather than Sands the terrorist that we hear from.
This gem features early on: “I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and the alien oppressive unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.”
There is no attempt to explain what this ‘oppression’ is never mind give another view of it. Bobby Sands the violent Irish republican on behalf of the movement declares that Northern Ireland is ‘our’ land! Brits Out might have been shorter but not quite so poetic.
Copious amounts of footage from the 70s and 80s are featured as we see and hear of Sands featuring in a cross-community football team, but his experiences in Rathcoole seem to have driven him to become a terrorist.
I was born around the same time as Sands, experienced similar injustices but didn’t take up a gun attempting to kill innocent people to rectify the injustices.
Day by day we are treated to the countdown as the hunger strike proceeds and his physical condition deteriorates.
He talks of “the liberation of my people” in another attempt to scale the literary heights but no one poses the very obvious question, ‘Liberation of his people from what?’.
The classic catchphrase had to be included and we get it in calm measured tones: “We admit no crime unless love of one’s people and country is a crime.”
So there it is in all its glory, the hood over the head, the bullet in the back, the bomb under the car of the innocents, all done in the name of a love of one’s people and country. As the cynic would say, that’s OK then.
Including academics, a commentator and a prison officer alongside a plethora of former IRA associates doesn’t achieve balance.
There is a scene which if done differently might have helped. Joanne Mathers, an innocent census taker, was murdered in Londonderry by the IRA and her funeral coincided with the count for the famous (or more accurately infamous) Bobby Sands parliamentary by-election.
This is referred to in a few seconds towards the end. If it had instead featured the contrast between the horrendous brutality of Sands’ colleagues as they shot a young unarmed woman collecting census forms at the start of the film with the voluntary determined suicide of the gunman Sands and his nine other convicts a more accurate scene would have been set for viewers. It is an opportunity lost.
At the very end there is an analysis of the hunger strike which many in SF won’t find appealing, but by then the overall picture has been painted and the message conveyed.
In the mad, mad Alice in Wonderland world of words and video clips meaning exactly what a film director wants them to mean, ‘66 Days’ makes good dramatic viewing, if overly long, but it is a million miles away from an accurate depiction of what happened during those harrowing days in 1981.
If it is up for awards it should not be in the real life drama section, that’s for sure.
• ‘Bobby Sands – 66 Days’ is in cinemas this week