Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 6 Nov 96 22:00:54 CST
From: (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: ‘Give us the future—we've had enough of your past’
Organization: Scott Marshall

Progressive Cinema

By Ron Sheldon, People's Weekly World, 26 October 1996

Michael Collins is a welcome addition to the collection of films depicting great revolutionary fighters for the cause of peace and justice.

Like Richard Attenborough's Gandhi and Spike Lee's Malcolm X, Neil Jordan's new biographical film is a high point in his career. It was a project nurtured for 12 years, waiting to be born at the right time under the right conditions.

The controversial and mysterious revolutionary hero, Michael Collins, has long been considered by Jordan an ideal subject for a historical film study. After gaining political clout as an accomplished director with such films as The Crying Game and Interview With the Vampire, Jordan felt confident to get funding for his monumental epic about this misunderstood revolutionary and the history of the Irish struggle for independence.

In the life of one person you can tell the events that formed the north and south of Ireland as they are today, Jordan has said.

This story is more about history than any political statement. When historical films are created, decisions have to be made on how to represent the real life people and events. Depending on the source of funding (usually large corporations) and the sentiments of the director, among other things, the final production can have varied meanings.

Although based on gathered facts, the judicious editing of information and interpretation of events can produce different results. Even though Collins lived only about 75 years ago, much of the information we have about him is as mysterious as the existence he maintained, said Jordan. I wanted to make this story as accurate as possible without killing it dramatically and I think I have.

The film covers the period in the Irish struggle against British rule, from the doomed Easter Rebellion in Dublin in 1916, to Collins untimely death six years later. But it's also about the British oppression of Ireland that's lasted for over 700 years. The first scenes show the leaders of the six-day standoff at the Dublin General Post Office being captured and taken off to be executed by the British. Among them is the great Irish socialist James Connolly. His life struggle ends at the beginning of this story, hopefully to be examined in another film.

Of the revolutionary leaders, only Eamon De Valera, because of his American birth, was spared the firing squad. Many followers, including Michael Collins and his friend Harry Boland, were imprisoned along with De Valera. On their release, they became the new leaders of the Irish independence movement.

In the following years, Collins became the military genius of the republican movement—masterminding impossible prison breaks, setting up an intelligence network and establishing an invisible army that eventually brought the British to the negotiating table. Forced to confront an enemy far superior in size and strength, Collins is credited with developing the art of guerrilla warfare and helping to found what is now called the IRA (Irish Republican Army).

When a truce was declared, De Valera insisted Collins lead the negotiations with the London government. Despite Collins lack of confidence as a politician, he made an attempt and returned with a plan that created the Irish Free State, but still owed allegiance to the British Crown. The plan also included partitioning the country with the northern six counties (now called Northern Ireland) remaining under British rule. The treaty fell short of the expectations of republican De Valera and his followers. Despite Collins' pleas for peace, De Valera's group left the government eventually creating a civil war between the pro- and anti- treaty forces, with Collins being branded a traitor by many of his former followers.

To add to the drama, a romantic triangle ensued between Collins and his friend Harry Boland, both vying for the attention of Kitty Kiernan, played by Julia Roberts. Accused of being pro-IRA by some critics, Jordan defended the project by saying, I believe that this inaccurate description is being used simply to inflame an already contentious situation.

He feels that, although Collins started out as a guerrilla fighter, in his later years he endorsed the plan to take guns out of Irish politics. For viewers unfamiliar with Irish history, it would appear that the production credits Michael Collins with nearly single-handedly bringing about the development of democracy in Ireland's first state free of total British rule.

By choosing the handsome charismatic Irish actor, Liam Neeson in the lead, the director has locked in the image of the tragic hero brought down by unfortunate circumstances. The true tragedy of the story is voiced in Collins' denunciation of the British occupation: I hate them for making hate necessary.