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Bobby Sands film which received public funding is to make television premiere

The film 'Bobby Sands: 66 Days' is due to make its television premiere on Sunday evening on BBC Two Northern Ireland. Picture by Chris Scott/PA Wire

A DOCUMENTARY about Bobby Sands - which faced criticism from unionists after it emerged that public money had been used to make it - will make its television premiere on BBC NI at the weekend.

The film, 'Bobby Sands: 66 Days', charts the IRA hunger striker's life and imprisonment and is based on extracts from his prison diaries.

Written and directed by Ardoyne-born Brendan J Byrne, the extracts are read by west Belfast actor Martin McCann and the film combines archive news footage, custom animation and dramatic reconstruction.

The 27-year-old IRA prisoner died after spending 66 days on hunger strike in the Maze prison in May 1981.

Released in cinemas last summer, it will be shown for the first time on television on BBC 2 NI at 9pm on Sunday.

The film proved hugely popular amongst cinema-goers across Ireland when released last year, recording the Republic's highest opening weekend returns for an Irish-made documentary, taking in more than €50,000.

In the north it came fifth in the box office chart on its debut weekend, finishing ahead of the combined audience total for both Star Trek and Ghostbusters.

Unionists reacted with anger to the news that the film had received tens of thousands in public funding from the BBC and Northern Ireland Screen.

Northern Ireland Screen revealed they gave £76,000 to the project, while the BBC did not disclose how much it contributed.

Former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP, the Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott, last year said that the decision to award public money for the film was "disgraceful".

Meanwhile, a film documenting the mass escape of IRA prisoners from the Maze is due to go on general release in cinemas on Friday.

'Maze' is written and directed by Stephen Burke and tells the story of the escape of 38 IRA prisoners from what was believed to be the most secure prison in Europe at the time.

Amongst those involved in planning the break-out were current Sinn Féin chairman Bobby Storey and North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly.

After overpowering guards with smuggled handguns, prisoners used a food lorry to get to the outer gate, where fighting broke out with warders.

Prisoner officer James Ferris (43) was stabbed with a chisel and suffered a massive heart attack and died during the melee on September 25 1983 in what was the biggest escape of prisoners in British and Irish penal history.

Twenty other officers were also injured, including two who survived being shot.

The film is based on extracts from the prison diaries of Bobby Sands, who died after spending 66 days on hunger strike

Masterminds behind the Maze escape; Robert Russell, Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly. Picture by Hugh Russell

The documentary on Bobby Sands was written and directed by Brendan J Byrne

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