Film Reviews

Review: ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs

Bobby Sands: 66 Days
(Ireland/UK, 105 min.)
Dir. Brendan Byrne
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)

It’s a testament to the quality of filmmaking that Bobby Sands: 66 Days comes across neither as a piece of propaganda, a screed, or a dry piece of journalism. Ambitious and often ambivalent about Bobby Sands’ drive for martyrdom, filmmaker Brendan Byrne and his team manage to tie the tale of the famed hunger striker to the greater struggles that were taking place in Northern Ireland, assembling a diverse and loquacious group to tell their sides of the tale.

The film uses the 66 days of Sands’ terminal fast as the launching board for a greater discussion, tracing events back to the early Seventies when the origin of Northern Ireland’s modern troubles began, all the way through to the entire of Ireland’s early 20th century’s struggles against British rule. So often the narrative of what took place in Northern Ireland has been presented in stark terms, but here Byrne manages to flesh out the sheer complexity of the forces involved, including the reticence of the Republic of Ireland’s government in Dublin to be seen as fostering the behavior of a convicted terrorist. Sands’ actions ended up being both effective and damaging to the Irish revolutionary ideal. By tracing the physiological, psychological and philosophical torments that Sands suffered, the film effectively uses his strike as a touchstone for deeper analysis of this period of history.

With fine motion graphics, some effective (and overt) recreations and a series of talking-head interviews from a laudably diverse group, Byrne’s 66 Days is an extremely effective take on the history and legacy of Sands, as well as touching upon the universality of the lessons the hunger strike continues to play on so many of us decades later.

Bobby Sands: 66 Days screens:
-Tuesday, May 3 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 9:00 PM
-Thursday, May 5 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 6:30 PM
-Saturday, May 7 at Hart House at 7:00 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Jason Gorber is a Toronto-based film, TV, and culture critic, and a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and is a Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. He is the managing editor and chief critic at ThatShelf, and a regular contributor to SlashFilm and POV magazine, as well as many other outlets and publications. Follow him on Twitter at @filmfest_ca.

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