22 June 2001 | clmcgrat
Begob, another Oirish cliché
It all looked so promising - at last, a big-budget movie about Ireland's history and actually directed and screenwritten by an Irishman! Tax breaks from the Irish government and thousands of Dubliners willing to work for free as extras gave it an added boost.
So what went wrong? First of all, we have the Oirish cliches. Take this one. Mr Collins makes a speech on a donkey cart. There were such things as platforms in early 20th century Ireland, but let that pass. Then the polis come. Collins gets down from the cart and headbutts someone. Mob take out many hurleys and start headwhacking. The whys and wherefores are a mystery here. It's the modern version of the obligatory barfight scene. For a sense of the lost dramatic potential of such a scene, read this report from England's 'Daily Mail' about a mass meeting in Ennis, Co. Clare addressed by de Valera, in 1917: "De Valera's arrival on the platform...was the signal for shattering cheers. In the square and its converging streets he faced 10,000 men; the remainder stood 'on guard' beyond the range of his commanding eye...As the cheers roared around him, De Valera held up his hand. There was instantly a dead silence...[He] himself said very little. 'I am not here to speak,' he cried. 'The time for speechmaking is over. The time to act has come!'"
And then the story. It is well known that most real lives don't translate very well to the screen, so subtelty and imagination must be applied liberally. Unfortunately, Collins's true story doesn't lend itself very well to a movie, as the story of, say, Patrick Pearse or Éamon de Valera would. Their lives had a real straightforwardness that is lacking here. Instead of fictionalising the character, which is always necessary in movies, Jordan used the actual facts and twisted them, which only usually works in history, when the historian isn't very particular about the truth. Thus, instead of being a valuable asset to the republican movement, Collins *is* the republican movement - so much for poor aul' Cathal Brugha, who organised the War of Independence, with the assistance of Richard Mulcahy and the constant involvement of de Valera, who was the senior surviving commander from the 1916 Rising. (Brugha was also a prominent 1916 survivor.) Believe it or not, Collins *was* just the 'head of a subsection', as Cathal Brugha (portrayed as a raving lunatic, naturally) famously said. One doesn't wish to underestimate Collins's role, but it was almost exclusively in intelligence. Think of how interesting a film based on Collins's espionage might have been, instead of the fruitless insistence that he was the Big Fella, he really was!
Instead of the statesman that he was (recognised all but officially as the President of the Irish Republic in America, where he toured and raised funds in 1919-20), de Valera 'becomes' a mere conniver, whose only interest is...well, it's not explained, really, but we just *know* he's evil. He also had a much greater involvement in the War of Independence than he's given credit for, and neither he nor Brugha approved of Collins's occasional 'revenge' killings. And so on.
As for the cast, the standard was poor. Neeson was alright, but the others were, frankly, atrocious. (Poor aul' Harry Boland, portrayed as a weakling by Quinn, was most definitely *not* killed in a sewer but gunned down in a hotel room by a murder gang. And why was Dev, in his 30s at the time, made to look old enough to be a grandfather? And let's not mention the woeful miscasting of Julia Roberts...)
Such a pity, really. I'm just waiting until they make a film about someone such as Dev. Someone of such real integrity, political wisdom and statesmanlike qualitites deserves a better showing than this, as do most of the other people portrayed in a skewed light by Jordan in this film. (And by the bye, merely from a dramatic standpoint, why was de Valera the principal villain, and not the British, apart from a couple of evil soldiers who were got rid of by bloody assassination or imollation? Err, weren't the Irish supposed to be fighting the British?) I think we all deserve something better, really, after so much Hollywood misinterpretation of Ireland.