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’.