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Michael Collins

November 5, 2013

Michael Collins (1996)
Director: Neil Jordan
Actors: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Julia Roberts

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Synopsis: Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) creates what is in essence the modern IRA through his role in destabilising British rule in Ireland. This ends initially in the Irish Free State Agreement of 1922 (something that Collins helped negotiate) which gave the Irish provisional governance over their own turf, but only below a line that partitioned Ireland between north and south. Eamon De Valera (Alan Rickman) criticises Collins’ role in the agreement, leading to a mortal division in the Irish Republican movement…

Review: Michael Collins really is Irish history told on a bold, sweeping, comprehensible scale. In a sense, it’s almost Irish history ‘Hollywoodised’, not just with the commercial casting of two American actors in leading roles (Julia Roberts and Aidan Quinn), but also in the film’s overall storytelling grammar. It has that old-school feel of a studio-shot, 50s epic: there is lots of seductive, neon lighting for the night-time conspiratorial sequences, there are men bedecked in vintage hats and raincoats, lots of swooping crane shots and big set pieces, and it’s all scored to swooning, though generic, celtic ballads.

I say all this with admiration as much as condescension, as Jordan has every right to popularise this moment in Irish history (as long as he’s not totally defaming now dead players in the story.) Liam Neeson incarnates the role of Michael Collins superbly. He’s obviously tall and strapping enough to be the proverbial ‘Big Fella’, but he possesses the requisite wit, swagger and determination to convince as the man who was able to strengthen the Irish republican movement in those crucial years prior to the Free State Agreement.  I particularly like the scenes where because of his mythic, ‘everyman’ appearance, he was able to waltz into a British army base and on another occasion even borrow a light from the British intelligence man hired to hunt him down. (November 2013)

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