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Michael Collins

Ireland, 1916. His dreams inspired hope. His words inspired passion. His courage forged a nation's destiny.  

Year: 1996 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Michael Collins

Neil Jordan's strident epic charting the turbulent years of the early twentieth century in pre- and post-independence Ireland ranks among the biggest box-office earners of all time in its home country.  Raising all kinds of awkward questions not only about Irish history, but about the definition of an 'Irish' film, this production has its generic roots in the epic biopic, which had been relatively dormant since Gandhi and Cry Freedom.  In offering its central figure as something of a symbol for larger questions within Irish history and politics in general, the film inevitably found itself in the middle of immediate controversy both at home and abroad.

It begins with the primal scene of recent Irish history, the defeat of the rebels at the hands of British troops in 1916 following the ill-fated proclamation of the Republic.  Michael Collins isn't a textbook, it is a dramatic interpretation of a moment in Irish history which has emotional and political resonances for both its creators and its intended audience.  It is a tragic story, and one which debates the merits of both resistance and compromise.  This has obvious links with the political climate of the late 1990s, and, in its own way, is an attempt to heal old wounds in the Irish psyche and invite a communal mourning for all of the hatred and lost opportunities of the past eighty years.

It is a wonderfully made, exciting, and invigorating film.  Its first half proceeds at a blistering pace, and though it compresses a great deal of history in doing so, it careens from set piece to set piece with the energy of a serial adventure.  The second half gives way to an inevitable slowing-down which matches the more complex and layered events which transpire as Collins becomes a politician rather than a fighter and finds himself mired in a different, more greyscale world of round-table manoeuvring and hidden agendas.

Towering literally above it all is Liam Neeson.  His thundering, powerful performance gives him the larger-than-life stature which mythology has always granted the man himself (though, as the film points out, one of Collins' most powerful weapons was his ability to appear anonymous and inconspicuous during those years).  He is backed by good supporting performances from many actors including Ian Hart, Brendan Gleeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea (a feature of almost every Jordan film since Angel), and Charles Dance. Ian McIlhenny also has an amusing cameo as a Northern Irish intelligence officer who meets a controversial fate.

Definitely worth a trip to the cinema.

Percival Tucker

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Screenings of this film:

1996/1997 Spring Term (35mm)
2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)