I remember sophomore year of high school in my European History class we watched a movie called Michael Collins. The entire time I was watching it I kept thinking that I had to go out and get it ASAP. So here we are, about five years later and I finally did just that. I can’t tell you what took me so long because I really have no excuse. Forgive me. Nevertheless, I’m here today to report back to my wonderful readers if this movie has aged well with me or if my memory is clouded.
In 1916, Ireland is under the rule of the British government as it has been for 700 years, despite all of the failed attempts at revolution. Michael Collins (Liam Neeson), along with an entire Irish cabinet of leaders, is sick of the British rule and decide that it is once again time for rebellion. This time they won’t play by the rules, and instead resort to guerrilla warfare in the streets of Ireland. Over the course of the next couple of years Collins and his compatriots fight the British with whatever weapon they have in order to win the dream of winning the People’s Republic of Ireland.
There is an all star cast at play in this film, most of which do an excellent job. Liam Neeson is the perfect choice of Michael, even if he is a little old for the role. He commands every scene he’s in and the viewer really feels like they are watching Michael and not Neeson. Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea provide great supporting characters, but of all of them, Alan Rickman is the guy. He supports Neeson’s powerhouse performance with one of his own and acts as a pseudo-doppleganger to Michael. The only weak link is Julia Roberts, whose character and performance bring the movie down a little bit. She really didn’t serve too much of a purpose in the movie at all, besides offering a predictable love affair side story that broke up the movie.
Historically, this movie has its ups and downs. It hits all of the major points in history but definitely takes its liberties. For one thing, the movie clearly has an agenda and portrays the British a bit too negatively. Show history, but don’t take sides. Another thing is that some of the deaths shown in the movie are either way dramatized or, more interestingly, didn’t actually happen. Alan Rickaman’s character of Éamon de Valera, the third president of Ireland, is shown as a spoiled celebrity of sorts. Still, the historical accuracies are very interesting and the excellent production design really puts you in the middle of it all.
This really is a great story to tell, and one that I don’t think gets too much attention. The first time I ever really learned about conflict in Ireland was the first time I watched The Devil’s Own when I was about 12 years old. I never would have thought that a place like Ireland could be violent. I mean, what about St. Patrick? Anyway, I hear plenty about the American Revolution and the French Revolution, but not too much about Ireland. I wonder why that is. Even though this isn’t the most accurate movie, it’s a good starting point in learning more about the times.
So in the end, Michael Collins has aged very well for me. It looks great, both the production design and cinematography, and the performances are all top notch, save for one. I just wish that it would have toned down the need to be dramatic in favor of a more historical and unbiased approach. Neil Jordan, the writer/director of this film, is from Ireland, so I can see why he depicts people the way he does, it just isn’t always appropriate. Michael Collins is certainly more entertaining than it is factual, but it certainly serves as excellent entertainment.