Directed by Brendan J Byrne
5th – 11th August 2016
Reviewed by Colin Serjent
This is a very accomplished documentary, with some stunning archive film clips, about IRA member Bobby Sands’s 66-day hunger strike in the so-called H Blocks of Long Kesh prison that led to his death in 1981.
It is without doubt one of the most memorable accounts of the Troubles ever made.
There are many talking heads with memories of that toxic time between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. Inevitably some of the recollections are laced with romanticism and mythology.
Some referred back to the concept of going on a hunger strike dating back to the Book of Job.
Given the title the film pays a great deal of attention of Sands’ life – most of his young adult period was spent in prison for his role in the Provisional IRA – he died aged only 27 – but it also incorporates the tales of Sands’ nine comrades who died in 1981 after taking part in a similar hunger strike.
There were so many political prisoners in Long Kesh at that time that they could be termed an army. The overriding issue was the ‘Special Category Status’. This had been withdrawn from Republican prisoners by the Labour government prior to Margaret Thatcher’s appointment as Conservative Prime Minister in 1979.
Despite pleas from various people and political organisations Sands was steely determined he would not back down from his solemn pledge.
A medical expert spoke about the ways a complete lack of food affects the human body, including the fact that the digestive system starts to devour itself and the profound effect he has on your eyesight.
In the final days Sands was blind in both eyes and a wire cage was erected over his prone body in bed because the sheets and blankets touching him would cause him great discomfort to compound his already parlous state of health.
Sands died on 5 May after ingesting no food for nearly ten weeks.
One of the most potent parts of the film is related to Sands’ election as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while on hunger strike. It caught the world’s attention, including Russia and Iran, as well as the USA.
A lot of credit must be bestowed upon director Brendan J Byrne and editor Paul Devlin for creating this vivid interpretation.