Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Review of the film "Bobby Sands - 66 days"

The film Bobby Sands – 66 days highlights the pivotal nature of the 1981 hunger strikes in the Republican struggle for independence.
The essential argument presented by Brendan J Byrne in this excellent documentary style film is that the hunger strikes set the path that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement and peace.
The structure of the film is to see the whole period through the focus of Bobby Sand’s life and his death after 66 days on hunger strike.
It is a cleverly worked, looking at Sands, just 27 when he died, but already a deep thinker when it came to the nature of the struggle going on in the north of Ireland and beyond. Whilst the Republican prisoners were focusing on other liberation struggles such as Cuba, Vietnam and Russia, Sands was one of those calling for reflection on the Republican tradition, particularly epitomised by Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and the other rebels of 1916.
The idea of the winner of the battle ultimately being the side that could endure more rather than inflict most damage on the other is another concept that came to have influence in the Irish struggle.
The wider aspects of the whole hunger strike episode are told via a timeline counting down by each day of Sands hunger strike. So there are the physical updates as he loses weight and his medical condition worsens.
The narrative is told via a whole succession of talking heads. The range of voices impressive - from Thatcher's biographer Charles Moore and Thatcherite Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit to Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison.
The medical expert who explains the deterioration of the body through the hungers strike offers a chilling insight. He tells how the body copes up to the 28 day mark, and then the terrible deterioration takes place. The body starts, in effect, eating itself and shutting down. The eyesight deteriorates and the bodily functions breaking down.
The political context looms large in the discourse. The decision to go on hunger strike, after the failed earlier attempt. Then, how with the election of Sands as a Westminster MP really changed the nature of the whole struggle. For it was that decision which moved the tactics of the Republican movement to that of the gun and ballot box.
Sands has become an iconic figure over the years and this film will help enhance that status even more. The linking of the 1916 rebels to Sands and the other Republicans continuing the struggle in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s is illuminating. One of the most fascinating factors is the strange phenomena of the hunger strike with its unique position in the Republican tradition - bringing together martyrdom and sacrifice with their deep roots in Catholicism and the liberation struggle.
The film leaves the viewer with a feeling of respect for the sacrifice made by the hunger strikers but also of a huge waste of life. The hunger strikes turned out to be a pivotal event in finally ending the war and bringing peace to Ireland. They also represent ofcourse the loss of 10 young lives among the 3000 plus over 40 years.

“I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul" - Bobby Sands, 1/3/1981 - the start of the hunger strike

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