Film & DVD Review: Michael Collins

Directed by Neil Jordan; starring Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea,
Alan Rickman and Julia Roberts.

Reviewed by Jeannie Trueman

Michael Collins DVD cover

Click on image to buy DVD

Historical films are usually depictions of events lost in the dim and distant mists of time. The story of Michael Collins is, however, linked to current controversy – he being one of the leaders of the IRA earlier this century.

The film starts with the Easter uprising of 1916. The IRA fight a doomed battle against the British Army, resulting in the gaoling of those taking part. Included in this number are Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), his friend Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), and the then leader of the IRA, Eamon DeValera (Alan Rickman). When they are released Collins and Boland resume the struggle, taking control of operations as DeValera is still in jail.

Collins and Boland are best friends as well as comrades; they share the joys and sorrows of their often risky life — and even share the affections of Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts), a woman later to become Collins’ fiancee. Boland, however, is not angry that he has been passed over in favour of his friend. Personally, I think the inclusion of the Kitty character in the film is an annoying distraction. It is almost as if directors of films do not think that people will find the film interesting unless there is a ‘love interest’! Lovers can be introspective; Comrades, however, look outwards towards the accomplishment of their Cause. This potential conflict is not really explored.

It is interesting to note that the IRA had an advantage — they possessed guns and had no qualms about using them for the defence of their cause. This leads one to ponder on what the motive to the present Government’s plan to ban guns actually is. Is it genuinely to protect us from the actions of dangerous misfits — or do they fear that a discontented populace may someday take up arms against the State?

The weapons were confiscated after a fierce battle. But the IRA were not to be outdone; the guns may have been taken away, but peat is plentiful in Ireland. Burning peat was thrown into the British Headquarters, and the British escaped, leaving their guns behind! Thus the IRA were re-armed. The battle scenes, taking place against the backdrop of Dublin, make this an exciting film.

The British Government eventually backs down, and invites the IRA to negotiate a peace treaty. Collins goes to London, and returns with an agreement that Ireland can become a Free State. They will still have to swear allegiance to the Crown, but their Army can replace the British Army there, which is to stand down.

This is the best they could have hoped for, argues Collins, but DeValera and his followers are bitterly disappointed that Ireland has not been given Republic status. Heated arguments take place in the Dail (the Irish Parliament), whose members are divided into two camps, supporting either Collins or DeValera. Sadly, this is the way that many nationalist struggles turn in on themselves.

Michael Collins and Harry Boland are now on opposite sides. Will the bond of friendship and comradeship, which for years has been so strong, survive?

In my opinion this film is very exciting, because of the action scenes, the comradeship, the idea of people fighting for their community, and making sacrifices for each other.

I would also say that it is a very dangerous film. Dangerous inasmuch as it defends an indefensible organisation; it makes the IRA look like heroes, with the exception of Eamon DeValera. He is made to look like a ‘slimy creep’, as befits a man who as leader of the Irish Government in 1945 was the only Head of State to convey condolences on the death of Hitler. Michael Collins is made to appear handsome, his ‘perfect bone structure’ and proud deportment contrasting with the portrayal of the British as tyrants who are willing to fire upon children at a football match. In Cinema, historical fact is often sacrificed for romantic fiction….

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