Michael Collins (Neil Jordan, 1996)

“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.”


I visited Ireland recently. Popped over the day term finished – flight from Gatwick (the worst airport in the world) to Dublin, straight to the pub (Doyles) for a Guinness. I saw U2 in Croke Park on the Saturday, went to Limerick for Sunday to see Mum and Dad, and then saw U2 again on Monday night. We were due to fly out on Thursday so between Tuesday and Thursday Sarah and I intended to be complete tourists and visited all the top spots in Dublin (shout-out to Kev, Maura and family for putting us up for the nights: Fantastic!). We went to the Guinness Storehouse, John Jameson & Son Distillery, Dublin Zoo, National Gallery (lots of Reynolds and Gainsboroughs), Museum of Modern Art (Rachael Whiteread and Richard Long amongst others) and, on our counsin’s advice, visited Kilmainham Gaol – a jail in Dublin where the leaders of the 1916, Easter Rising in Dublin, were taken and then, out the back, were shot. My Dad has told me that back when he was a boy – and even now – Irish History was/is taught and, from the small snippets I have heard, it truly is fascinating. I’m not a big history buff- far from it – but when smething interests me I do try and have a gander. This Michael Collins chap was incredibly important with regard to forming unity between Ireland and England and, ultimately, the signing of a treaty that enabled Ireland to become a free-state and then, become The Republic of Ireland that it is today. Obviously, the civil war strife continued and what-not, but there is only so much that can be done. This treaty was the first major step in restoring Irelands independence – and Michael Collins (amongst many other memebers of the Irish Republican Army, pre-1921) was behind that.

Anyway, in Kilmainham Gaol, a lot of these important leaders were killed fighting for their country and their freedom and that struck me quite powerfully. First thing to do was get a basic overview and – upon countless Aunties, Uncles and – most importantly – Mum and Dad’s advice I purchased the Michael Collins DVD. I also got In the Name of the Father (I had it on video and studied it for Media studies and it is a bloody good film I haven’t seen for a long time) and these will sit next to my Angelas Ashes DVD recommended to me by my Mum – who spent her young teenage years in Limerick herself. But in better circumstances than Frank McCourt (R.I.P).

So plowing ahead with Irish cinema (most likely paid for by American studios), I discuss Michael Collins …
What I reckon …
So, the film startsff with the failed showdown in 1916: The Easter Rising. The Irish rebels surrendered and the leaders were found – amongst them Pearse, Plunkett, an injured Connelly, DeValera – and many others. Connelly was badly injured and was held at a hospital while the others were jailed in Kilmainham Gaol. As DeValera (Alan Rickman) had American citizenship he could not be executed – while all the other leaders were taken out the back and shot by court marshal. Even Connelly was specially wheeled in from the hospital and shot. The coverage of this horrendous action by British troops was told around the Ireland and, inevitably, created sympathy for the Irish rebels. Prior to this, they did not have as much support.
This is merely the fast-paced introduction to the film. Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) is assists in the Easter Rising in the film, but is released following a short imprisonment. He travels the country gaining support and, unexpectedly, gains support from one of the spies who are following him. This is Broy (Stephen Rea) who, according to Wikipedia – not a great source but… – was an amalgamation of a range of police informers for the rebels, soon to become the Irish Republican Army. Anyway, Broy lets Collins have access to the police records and, turns out, they have a lot of information on them. So, Collins decides they have to cut out an important part of the police investigation – cut out the spies themselves. The ‘Dublin Castle’ – the police – are gaining all their information from following the known Irish Rebels. A letter is sent and the IRA hire younger violent sympathisers to kill detectives who continue to follow them – thus sending a clear message that ‘the IRA will not tolerate being followed’.

Now, my cousin tells me their are many inaccuracies with tthis film – so bear this in mind because, obviously, I wasn’t there, I’m just telling you the plot. I’ll try and hurry it up a bit though.

This violence against violence leads to Bloody Sunday – whereby following British troops being sent into Dublin, the IRA killed 14 of these troops. In turn, the British got into their tanks and went down to Croke Park where a gaelic football game was being played and shot at the people there. Killing about 14 themselves – and then they tortured known IRA members in the evening for information also – in the film, Broy, is amongst these tortured and is killed in the process, as a few of those who were tortured indeed did themselves. A horrible day in Irish history (See U2 song…)

Anyway, a failed attack from the IRA akin to what happened in 1916, leave the IRA weak but, strangely enough, Britain call for a ceasefire and Collins goes over to England to sign the treaty – he gets independence, but only for the south of Ireland. Northern Ireland remains tied to Great Britain. De Valera is angered by this, but Collins is adamant that this is the first step t independence. Their are pro-treaty and anti-treaty groups and a civil war breaks out – in the hope of stopping this Collins goes to meet De Valera in Cork – his hometown – whereby prior to meeting him, Collins is ambushed and killed by anti-treaty protestors.

There are love interests and friends who are also a big part of the story – so don’t feel that that is all it is, but it summarises the Irish history it covers. It truly is epic in scale and the fact that Julia Roberts is in it, explains how much money was put up behind it to make sure it had every chance of success. You can really feel the support the film had. Interestingly enough, Neil Jordan wrote the film also and so has discussed on the DVD the inaccuracies and explains that in most cases he simply didn’t want to have to explain the huge amount of history behind this short period of time as it was only a two hour movie, while his approach showing Bloody Sunday (whereby the tanks enter into the Croke Park football ground, rather than wiat outside and shoot from outside) was changed so the sequence would be shorter and more powerful. The fact that people died and they were civilians is bad enough in my book – and that happened in both cases. Its funny, these technical aspects Neil Jordan talks about should really have been listened to by Zack Snyder on his Watchmen film – too long, too much shit. Someone should have said: cut it down, you have to make it two hours. Would have been alot better. Neil Jordan should of made Michael Collins three hours and then establish alot of inaccuracies.

I think my personal problem was this ‘epic’ tag it clearly had in pre-production. The finale – as we move from the inevitable tragedy of Collins and then cut to love-interest buying a wedding dress is so cliche. Sarah told me she was glad that the love story didn’t overshadow the politics. I think she is right – it could have been alot worse – but, why have it at all. Touch on the fact he had family and a girl – but whats with the love triangle? Too much in my book. I did think about ‘improvements’ that could be made and, from my knowledge, music is so important and, in hindsight, I don’t recall a theme or anything specifically heart-wrenching or emotional about the music. Maybe its me, because rarely do people fault a composer such as Elliot Goldenthal (with Sinead O’Conner doing the odd vocal no less), but then again, rarely do you hear people sing his praises! Not to mention, it seemed very unexpected when he died. I mean, if people are watching the film, they know he died – theres no need for shocks. Maybe a focus on Collins as he knew his time was up, alongside some music that simply makes you feel that its all over would just tip you over the edge with emotion – but what happened seemed as if “its an ambush” and, bang, “no, Michael, no! [its a head wound, he’s gone] no-o-o-o-o!”. The crying over the corpse and Julia Roberts backing away-because-she-knows-without-him-saying, is just a little obvious. We didn’t even see Roberts face when she was told because she was running away from the guy – and from us.
I’m not Neil Jordan and, to be honest, he’s a great director (The Crying Game …), so maybe the whole directing job is actually quite difficult, but I did feel that he might of thought that as it was an epic, he had to do certain things – when it was these things which made it very run-of-the-mill, taking it out of a unique story territory to standard-historical-epic territory.
Note the poster-picture chosen – very ‘Liberty Leading the People’ Delacroix rip-off… seems to be the new craze, as Coldplay just uses it for every single, album and EP they release!

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