I went to see the new Bobby Sands’ movie, ’66 Days’ the other night and this is my review.
This is a film full of unanswered questions, or to be precise, unasked questions.
’66 Days’, which I intend here to examine only for its politics rather than its style (which some might also find controversial), is a very thinly disguised attempt to approvingly link Sands’ sacrifice with the entry of Sinn Fein into electoral politics, thus setting in motion the political physics which led to the peace process.
So Bobby Sands equals peace is the essential message of the movie, reinforced by a frankly monochromatic procession of interviews with mostly loyal disciples of the Sinn Fein gospel. No dissenting voices of significance aired here! It is a simple message which, as one colleague observed the other day, would strike a chord outside Ireland where the subtleties are less understood.
But, of course, Sands and his nine comrades did not die so Sinn Fein could grace the corridors of Stormont or Leinster House. They chose painful, slow deaths for a very different reason. They wanted to be recognised as political prisoners, or as prisoners of war, not common criminals, because they regarded themselves as warriors in an ancient struggle against Britain’s occupation of Ireland. And they belonged to a politico-military movement forged in anti-electoralism, which split from its parent in 1969 partly in protest at the embrace of the parliamentary politics that now characterises Sinn Fein.
So the big question that is never asked much less answered in ’66 Days’ is this: would Bobby Sands have so readily endured an agonising two month-long dance with death had he been able to see two of the most striking pieces of archive that were shown near the end of this movie: one of a greying Gerry Adams smirking (triumphantly?) as marchers in a hunger strike memorial trooped past him; the other of Martin McGuinness, the one-time hard man of the Provos, who ‘did the business’ when Gerry wouldn’t, as so many Provos would tell you in 1993, shuffling into a stately room at Hillsborough Castle to do his duty and exchange meaningless pleasantries with Queen Elizabeth (what on earth goes through her/his head during such encounters?)
Or if he had heard Ireland’s savant de jour, Fintan O’Toole – who would scarcely have allowed himself to been seen within spitting distance of the Provos in 1981 – approvingly proclaim that Sands’ achievement was to end the IRA’s armed struggle not legitimise it, his role that of the midwife to a peace process that has stabilised the constitutional status quo, not weakened it.
Or that the making of a film about his life would be shunned by his family, by his son, would be licensed by a Trust that excludes those nearest and dearest to him, whose finances are kept secret, whose beneficiaries are unknown, whose income over thirty-five intervening years can only be guessed at. And not a mention made of this in the entire movie?
Or that it would show former comrades sliming Brendan Hughes for ‘fucking up’ the 1980 fast, while excluding the most sensational and believable claim made since 1981, that an opportunity to end the second fast and save more than half of those who died was sabotaged by the same leadership that blackens Hughes, and that the author of that claim was ostentatiously interviewed for the film about everything except that?
None of these issues were raised or the relevant quesions asked. They should have been. The central assertion is true, Bobby Sands’ death set the stage for the end of the IRA and for Sinn Fein’s entry into electoral politics, power, respectability and, recently, money. But that’s only part of the story.
Bobby Sands set out to win the IRA legitimacy but only secured the conditions for its eclipse. But the most interesting question, which will long outlive this film, is never put: what the man himself might have thought about all this? Would he have traveled the same road had he known where it would end? It would have been a better movie if it had balanced the narrative thus. And that is the failing of ’66 Days’.
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Ed hindsight in reviewing history was not a gift held by Sands in March ’81. His purpose as OC of Long Kesh was to expose & destroy the British policy started in ’76 of Ulsterisation, Criminalisation and Normalisation. To this end he and his other brave comrades were successful.
Britain has always touted herself as the home of democracy, law & order. Bobby Sands exposed Britain and its role in Ireland for what it is, the “Murder Machine”.
Your question above “Would he have traveled the same road if he had known when it would end?” is not based in reality. Like all soldiers weather it be Stalingrad, Kursk, the Somme or Ganippoli, Sands did not enjoy the luxury of looking 5, 10 or 20 years into the future. He had to deal with the here and now. The courage and bravery displayed by this Irish Soldier touched us all.
What is clear, just like Pearse and the men of ’16, he has bench marked our history. A history that now holds us to account, including Mr O’Toole. Sands legacy is the laughter of out children and a United Irish Republic. The bar is set.
i think you miss the point brian – the question is put in the context of the rewriting of the hunger strike which is implicit and at times explicit in this film – if the film had placed him accurately as someone who went on this hunger strike for reason (a) but instead (b) developed that would have been fine. but it doesn’t do that. it suggests or implies that he went on hunger strike for (b), which of course suits the SF leadership. i have no problem saying he did it for (a) but instead (b) happened, indeed i have been writing that for years. but i would never suggest he did it for (b) or would have been content with (b), which i submit the film does.
It’s astonishing how swiftly myths are generated and history is domesticated. The ‘convenient lie becomes official truth, and dissenters are silenced with invocations of ‘respect’ for the memory of the man whose real story has been disfigured by the self-serving narrative.
I feel tremendous sympathy for the family of Bobby Sands. It’s all simply another layer of pain and suffering.