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Michael Collins (film)

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Michael Collins (film)

Michael Collins
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Neil Jordan
Produced by Stephen Woolley
Written by Neil Jordan
Starring Liam Neeson
Aidan Quinn
Stephen Rea
Alan Rickman
Julia Roberts
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography Chris Menges
Edited by J. Patrick Duffner
Tony Lawson
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • 11 October 1996 (1996-10-11)
Running time 133 minutes
Country France
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $27,572,844[1]

Michael Collins is a 1996 historical biopic written and directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary who died in the Irish Civil War.[2] It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.[3]


The film opens in 1922, as Joe O'Reilly (Ian Hart) attempts to console Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts), who is mourning the death of Michael Collins.

The film flashes back to the end of the Easter Rising in 1916, as Collins (Liam Neeson), Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), Éamon de Valera (Alan Rickman), and other survivors surrender to the British Army. As the Dublin Metropolitan Police's "G" Division identifies the leaders, Collins tells Boland that next time, "We won't play by their rules, Harry. We'll invent our own." All the other leaders die by firing squad, but de Valera, an American citizen, is imprisoned in England. Collins, Boland, and the others are sent to Frongoch internment camp.

After his release, Collins runs for a seat in the First Dáil. While giving a speech, the rally is attacked by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Collins is severely beaten, but is rescued by Boland. While recovering on a friend's farm, they meet Kitty, who begins a romance with Boland.

Collins is tipped off by Detective Ned Broy (Rea) that the British plan to arrest de Valera and his Cabinet. However, de Valera forbids anyone to go into hiding, stating that the ensuing public outcry will force their immediate release. Only Collins and Boland escape arrest and imprisonment, and there are no protests.

Later, Boland and Collins travel to England and break de Valera out of Lincoln prison. Angry that Collins has overshadowed him, de Valera announces that he will travel to the United States to seek recognition from Woodrow Wilson, and orders Boland to accompany him. Before they depart, Collins suggests to Boland his belief that de Valera fears leaving them alone together.

Left in command, Collins orders the IRA to begin raiding police barracks for weapons. He also issues a statement that all collaboration with the British will be punished by death. Collins then recruits a squad from the IRA's Dublin Brigade, which, on Bloody Sunday, assassinates fourteen members of MI5's Cairo Gang. In retaliation, the Black and Tans fire into the crowd at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park. Broy is caught burning documents, tortured and killed.

After returning, de Valera decrees that the IRA must make a formal military attack on The Custom House. Collins argues that fighting conventionally will allow the British to win, but the Cabinet votes to support de Valera. The attack fails catastrophically, leaving six men dead and seventy captured. In the aftermath, Collins declares that the IRA can only hold out for a month. In private, he tells Boland that the IRA will be lucky to hold out for another week. To his surprise, however, the British soon call for a cease fire.

De Valera orders Collins to go to London to participate in negotiations with the British, despite Collins's objections that he is not a diplomat. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, de Valera erupts upon learning that the terms have been published without his agreement. Collins argues that the Treaty gives them the freedom to achieve the Republic.

De Valera and his supporters resign in protest after the Dáil approves the Treaty by 64–57. Both Collins and de Valera try to sway the Irish people in their respective directions. Collins is attacked by an anti-Treaty Republican during a rally, but escapes. In the aftermath, he asks Kitty Kiernan to marry him and she accepts.

When the people vote to approve the Treaty, de Valera refuses to accept the results and orders the IRA to seize the Four Courts in Dublin. Ordered by the Cabinet to retake the Four Courts, Collins (now Chief of Staff of the National Army) is appalled at having to fight former comrades. The Taoiseach, Arthur Griffith, informs him that, if the Irish Free State Army will not deal with the IRA, the British Army will. In the subsequent Battle of Dublin, the IRA is driven from the city. Despite Collins' attempts to capture him, Boland is shot by a sentry while trying to swim the Liffey.

Devastated by Boland's death, Collins travels to County Cork. He reaches out to de Valera through an intermediary, asking for a peace conference. Without de Valera's knowledge, the intermediary informs Collins that de Valera will meet him at Béal na Bláth the following day. As a convoy of Irish Army vehicles approaches they find a cart laid across the road and IRA men open fire from a nearby hillside. A short ambush starts and Collins is shot and killed after breaking cover from behind an armoured car. Joe O'Reilly tries to revive Collins but he dies and his attacker unknown. Kitty is informed of his death just after trying on her wedding gown. She is devastated by his death.

Completing his story, O'Reilly tells Kitty that Collins would not want her to mourn as long as she has.

The film ends with a montage of footage from Collins' funeral. A eulogy states that, although a career soldier, Collins died in a failed effort to remove the gun from Irish politics.



Michael Cimino wrote a script and was involved in pre-production work on a possible Collins film for over a year in the early 1990s with Gabriel Byrne attached to star. Cimino was fired over budget concerns. Neil Jordan mentions in his film diary that Kevin Costner had also been interested in developing a movie about Collins and had visited Béal na Bláth and the surrounding areas.[4]

The film was scripted and directed by Neil Jordan. The soundtrack was written by Elliot Goldenthal. The film was an international co-production between companies in Ireland and the United States.[5] With a budget estimated at $25 million, with 10%-12% from the Irish Film Board, it was one of the most expensive films ever produced in Ireland.[6] While filming, the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire caused the film's release to be delayed from June to December which caused Warner Bros. executive Rob Friedman to pressure the director to reshoot the ending to focus on the love story between Collins and Kiernan, in an attempt to downplay the breakdown of Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.[6]


A number of Irish actors auditioned for the part of de Valera but Jordan felt they weren't able to find a real character and were playing a stereotype of de Valera. Jordan met with John Turturro about the role before casting Alan Rickman. Jordan initially envisioned Stephen Rea playing Harry Boland, but then decided the role of Broy would give Rea more of a challenge. Matt Dillon and Adam Baldwin also auditioned for the role.[4]

Historical alterations

Although based on historical events, the film does contain some alterations and fictionalizations, such as the death of Harry Boland. Boland did not die in the manner suggested by the film. He was shot in a skirmish with Irish Free State soldiers in The Grand Hotel, Skerries, North Co. Dublin during the Battle of Dublin. The hotel has since been demolished but a plaque was put where the building used to be. His last words in the film - "Have they got Mick Collins yet?" - are however, based on a well-known tradition.[7]

Neil Jordan defended his film by saying that it could not provide an entirely accurate account of events, given that it was a two-hour film that had to be understandable to an international audience who would not know the minutiae of Irish history.[8] The documentary on the DVD release of the film also discusses its fictional aspects.

Ned Broy was not tortured and killed as depicted in the film. In reality, he became Commissioner of the Garda Síochána between 1933 and 1938. He died in 1972.

Critic Roger Ebert referred to the closing quotation from de Valera that history would vindicate Collins at his own expense, writing that "even Dev could hardly have imagined this film biography of Collins, which portrays De Valera as a weak, mannered, sniveling prima donna whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed in, and over, Ireland."[9]


The score was written by acclaimed composer Elliot Goldenthal, and features performances by Sinéad O'Connor. Frank Patterson also performs with the Cafe Orchestra in the film and on the album.


The Irish Film Censor initially intended to give the film an over-15 Certificate, but later decided that it should be released with a PG certificate because of its historical importance. The censor issued a press statement defending his decision, claiming the film was a landmark in Irish cinema and that "because of the subject matter, parents should have the option of making their own decision as to whether their children should see the film or not".[5] The video release was, however, given a 12 certificate.

The film was rated 15 in the United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Classification.[10]


The film became the top grossing film ever in Ireland upon its release, making IR£ 4 million. In 2000, it was second only to Titanic in this category.[5] It received generally positive reviews, but was mildly criticized for some historical inaccuracies.[11]



  1. ^
  2. ^ The Irish Filmography 1896–1996; Red Mountain Press; 1996. p. 80 ISBN 0-9526698-0-3
  3. ^ "The awards of the Venice Film Festival". Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  4. ^ a b Neil Jordan, Michael Collins, Plume Press, 1996 ISBN 0-452-27686-1
  5. ^ a b c "Between Irish National Cinema and Hollywood: Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  6. ^ a b Goldstone, Patricia. Making the world safe for tourism, Yale University Press, 2001. p. 139 ISBN 0-300-08763-2
  7. ^ Fitzpatrick, David. Harry Boland's Irish Revolution, Cork University Press. p. 8. ISBN 1-85918-222-4
  8. ^ "Michael Collins", The South Bank Show, 27 October 1996.
  9. ^ Ebert's review, published on 25 October 1996
  10. ^
  11. ^ Flynn, Roderick and Patrick Brereton. "Michael Collins", Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema, Scarecrow Press, 2007. Page 252. ISBN 978-0-8108-5557-1

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