Socialist Worker

66 Days—a fine lesson in the brutality of the British state

Several attempts have been made to dramatise Bobby Sands’ fatal hunger strike—but 66 Days succeeds where others have failed, writes Sarah Bates

Issue No. 2515

Hunger striker Bobby Sands in 66 Days

Hunger striker Bobby Sands in 66 Days


Bobby Sands is one of the world’s most famous martyrs. Several attempts have been made to dramatise his fatal hunger strike in 1981—the recent documentary 66 Days must be one of the best.

Sands’ diaries and poetry are interwoven with history of British imperialist rule in Northern Ireland.

This means the film has real pathos and makes the documentary accessible for all—regardless of your existing knowledge. 

66 Days takes you through each painful day of the strike as Sands’ physical condition worsens but his resolve remains as strong as ever. 

It is comprised of a mix of dramatisation, animation and archive footage. But 66 Days is anchored on Sands’ own diaries written during his prison stay—and crucially written during the first 17 days of the hunger strike.

Former IRA volunteers, Sinn Fein members, H-Block prison guards, historians and even a hunger strike specialist talk directly to the audience.

Prisoners in the H-Blocks were subjected to torture. Sensory deprivation meant even the windows into the cells were boarded up.

The treatment of prisoners inside H-Block attracted mass support for them, with demonstrations of tens of thousands of people.

The hunger strikers, led by Sands, were striking for nothing more than a recognition of their political prisoner status. Sands correctly predicted that the hunger strike would raise the profile of the special category status—and the demand for a united Ireland free from British persecution. 

The film perfectly demonstrates that resistance to Britain’s occupation does not begin and end with the IRA.

Those who knew him said Sands identified himself in the political tradition of James Connolly and others involved in the 1916 Easter Rising. 

Bobby Sands died aged 27 years old, emaciated, blind, and in too much pain to have blankets touching his skin.

Understood

After ten men had died the hunger strike was called off and their demands were met in all but name.

Sands died where he had spent most of his adult life—in prison. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral.

Bobby Sands understood that by becoming a martyr he would change the world we live in today. 

The film is a valuable resource. It explores aspects of Sands’ imprisonment which are often forgotten—his ability to write and tell stories to fellow prisoners, and in keeping up morale.

66 Days doesn’t romanticise the reality of armed struggle. It shows how the death toll of both Protestant and Catholic rises over the years.

The documentary succeeds where past dramatisations, most notably Steve McQueen’s Hunger, have failed.

That’s because it doesn’t only concentrate on Sands’ psychological state but looks at the impact he made outside the prison.

Sands’ election as an MP during his hunger strike is one of the most interesting parts of the film.

66 Days is a lesson in how far the British state will go to quash resistance.

It avoids the easy trap of painting Bobby Sands as just a victim in a conflict. He was the architect of his own destiny and orchestrated the hunger strikes to gain maximum political capital.

Unfortunately, the documentary is enjoying only a limited release in cinemas.

All those interested in learning about one of the turning points for British imperialism should take the chance to watch it.

66 days is directed by Brendan J Byrne and produced by Trevor Birney. It is on limited release in UK cinemas. Go to 66daysthefilm.com for more details

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