The strug­gle made real

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS

★★★★

Di­rected by Bren­dan J Byrne Fea­tur­ing Fin­tan O’Toole, Richard English, Norman Teb­bit, Tim Pat Coogan, Dessie Water­worth, Gerry Adams 12A cert, limited re­lease, 106 min

With the dead­en­ing in­evitabil­ity of rain at a bar­be­cue, union­ist politi­cians have com­plained about mod­est pub­lic funds be­ing passed to Bren­dan J Byrne’s ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary on the 1981 repub­li­can hunger strikes. Of course they hadn’t seen the thing when they lodged their ob­jec­tions. Would the likes of Sammy Wil­son MP be won over by the fin­ished work?

Well, 66 Days does ro­man­ti­cise just a lit­tle. Peter Strain and Ryan Kane’s beau­ti­ful an­i­ma­tions ac­com­pany melodic read­ings by Martin McCann from Bobby Sands’s prison di­ary to cre­ate an un­mis­tak­ably heroic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the hunger striker. But Byrne clev­erly con­tex­tu­alises his work by show­ing the set be­ing built – wooden walls for the cell – while a voice dis­cusses how Sands has been swal­lowed up by suc­ces­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tions. The film-mak­ers are alert to the dan­gers.

Around that core cre­ation – which counts down day by day to Sands’s death – the film works rig­or­ously to in­clude var­ied voices and to at­tack all an­gles (though the dearth of women re­mains a worry). Do­mes­tic au­di­ences will know much of the cold his­tor­i­cal de­tail, but many will be in­trigued by footnotes from ex­perts on mal­nu­tri­tion and on the sur­pris­ingly re­cent emer- gence of the hunger strike as a po­lit­i­cal weapon. This news­pa­per’s Fin­tan O’Toole is good on the way the protests al­lowed the IRA, whose “armed strug­gle” so rarely in­volved eye-to-eye con­flict, to drape it­self in the man­tle of heroic suf­fer­ing. Norman Teb­bit, whose wife was per­ma­nently dis­abled in the Brighton Bomb­ing, is among those pre­sent­ing the case for the pros­e­cu­tion.

Byrne has been at the doc­u­men­tary game for some decades and he knows that no amount of bal­ance will mat­ter if the film does not ex­hibit nar­ra­tive thrust. Struc­tured around the spine of Sands’s de­cline, 66 Days pow­ers us through a so­cio-po­lit­i­cal mael­strom that kicked up chaos through­out the world. We are re­minded how quickly all this hap­pened: 10 men starved to death be­tween May 5th and Au­gust 29th. But we are also al­lowed to savour the slow drift to­wards the rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity that now ex­ists in North­ern Ire­land.

We are left with a com­pre­hen­sive, bal­anced, grip­ping tale of ter­ri­ble times. Would it win over the DUP ful­mi­na­tors? Prob­a­bly not. What could?

Bobby Sands: A bal­anced, grip­ping tale of ter­ri­ble times

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