Neil Jordan's historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army during the Irish Civil War.
Neil Jordan's depiction of the controversial life and death of Michael Collins, the "Lion of Ireland", who led the IRA against the UK and helped found the Irish Free State in 1922.Written by
Dawn M. Barclift
Harry Boland was in America when Collins returned to Ireland with the treaty, not in Dublin as shown in the movie. See more »
[dictating a letter]
You've got to think of him the way he was... He was what the times demanded. And life without him seems impossible. But he's dead. And life is possible. He made it possible.
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Opening scroll: At the turn of the century Britian was the foremost world power and the British Empire stretched over two-thirds of the globe. Despite the extent of its power its most troublesome colony had always been the one closest to it, Ireland For seven hundred years Britain's rule over Ireland had been resisted by attempts at rebellion and revolution, all of which ended in failure. Then, in 1916, a rebellion began, to be followed by a guerilla war which would change the nature of that rule forever. The mastermind behind that war was Michael Collins. His life and death defined the period, in its triumph, terror and tragedy. This is his story. See more »
In spite of the controversy, an orthodox view which still fails to convince.
As a student of history in Ireland, I was both amused and annoyed by this film. On the first viewing I was confused: much of it was very powerful, especially the 1916 and civil war scenes. My confusion related o the treatment of de Valera, who I have always regarded as displaying great integrity, and the portrayal of Collins's terrorism, which I will come to in a minute. The following fact displays the dubiousness of the basis of this film: Director Neil Jordan displayed on the screen a quote, supposedly made by de Valera about Collins in 1966: "in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense." This quote is contained only in Tim Pat Coogan's 1990 biography of Collins: he heard it from Collins's nephew, who heard it from Joe McGrath (a former intelligence operative and sometime Minister) who supposedly heard de Valera say it. A third-hand quote produced verbatim after two or three decades. Someone else below has mentioned historical inaccuracies. I would say that what is more important is that history as it was is presented in a manner similar to the presentation of the quote - half-digested, misinterpreted and as orthodoxy. For example: the notion presented by the film that Collins started and organised the highly successful 'flying columns' which carried out devastating ambushes of enemy troops, is erroneous. The officers of the East Limerick Brigade started it, and it spread to the renowned South Tipperary Brigade, and on from there. Then there is the issue of the terrorism practiced by Collins. Was it a characteristic of the War of Independence in Ireland, and was it necessary?
Shooting of spies was certainly carried out in Ireland. It wasn't initiated by Collins, who became Minister for Finance in 1919 (NOT Minister for Intelligence, though he was Director of Intelligence in the army), in Ireland's first independent representative assembly in 750 years. Terrorism? No, it was a widely practiced act of war. The two countries were at war. But Collins, according to one intelligence expert, carried out assassinations of people whose status as spies or traitors has still not been proven.
In fact, his tendency to target his politcal opponents with his gangs during the civil war calls his whole War of Independence status into question. These facts have a tendency to be brushed under the carpet by his legions of fans and consequently by this film. So too his role in the treaty talks. It is not widely known that the terms accepted by the delegates, or terms so similar the difference is hardly worth discussing, were already on the table when the negotiations began by virtue of preliminary talks by de Valera & others. In other words what was accepted was a travesty by any standards. It not only legalised partition (and was the source of 80 years of further bloodshed) but accepted that the rest of Ireland only had status as it was conferred by Britain. Some still believe that de Valera knew that more couldn't be achieved, but there is no basis for this, and having looked at his papers, I believe this is nonsense. Indeed, there are indications (see Hopkinson, 'Green Against Green') that Collins and the head of the delegation Griffith were happy enough with the terms to conspire with Lloyd George and Churchill to blackmail the other delegates into acceptance. What is clear is that both originally favoured acceptance of the original offer - Collins because it allowed the Free State to raise an army (yippee!).
This is a technical discussion, but I wish to demonstrate how the blurring or ignoring of facts can create confusion in a historical film. A lot of people had a problem with the film but just couldn't put their finger on it. It just doesn't add up. I've no problem generally with artistic licence, but where the morality of a film rests on its facts, it needs to make sense and have logic. Overall, the acting was quite good, with one or two exceptions - the obvious one being Julia Roberts. Alan Rickman is always a shade over the top for me. Characterisation, even of Collins, was shallow. Motives weren't really explored, except to the extent of Collins saying, more or less, "I am noble because I want peace even though I am a bloody murderer but that is the Brits' fault not mine," the Brits saying "Look how evil and/or incompetent I am," and de Valera saying "I lack the courage to do what is really necessary, I am also weak and feckless and the nemesis to the charismatic hero." The film also does a grave injustice to Harry Boland, who was a far more capable and intelligent character than he was made out to be here. There's no denying that the film has power, but it's undermined by the script, which sometimes borders on the ridiculous, and seems to try to cater to the American audience (who didn't go to see it in droves). There hasn't been a film made yet about Ireland's past (that I have seen) which I would recommend, so I don't want to be too hash. But if you want to be informed about the time, read Macardle's 'The Irish Republic'.
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