Michael Collins (film)

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
Editing by J. Patrick Duffner
Tony Lawson
Studio Geffen Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) 11 October 1996 (1996-10-11)
Running time 133 minutes
Country France
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $11,092,559

Michael Collins is a 1996 historical biopic written and directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson as General Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary who died in the Irish Civil War.[1] It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.[2]



The film opens in 1922, as a devastated Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts) mourns the death of her fiance, Michael Collins. As Kitty refuses to leave her bed, his associate Joe O'Reilly attempts to console her with tales of Collins' love for his country.

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

After his release in 1918, Collins runs as a member of the illegal First Dáil. While giving a campaign 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 strikes up a romance with Boland.

Collins is tipped off by D.M.P. Detective Ned Broy (Stephen 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. Everyone—except Collins and Boland—are arrested and imprisoned, and there are no protests in response.

Left in command, Collins orders the IRA to begin raiding police barracks for guns and ammunition. He also issues a statement that all collaboration with the British Empire will be punished by death without trial. In order to carry out this threat, Collins orders Harry to recruit an assassination squad from the IRA's Dublin Brigade. Using information supplied by Detective Broy, Collins begins assassinating operatives of the D.M.P.'s "G" Division.

On Bloody Sunday, Collins' Squad assassinates fourteen members of MI5's Cairo Gang. In retaliation, a combined force of Black and Tans and British Army regulars fire into the crowd at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park. Ned Broy is caught burning documents in a hotel and lynched.

Later, Boland and Collins travel to Britain and break de Valera out of Lincoln prison. Enraged that Collins has overshadowed him, de Valera announces that he will travel to the United States to seek formal recognition from President Woodrow Wilson. Hoping to keep Collins in line, he also orders Boland to accompany him. Before they depart, Collins informs Boland that de Valera fears leaving them alone together as "We might achieve that Republic he wants to talk to the world about."

After returning without any results, de Valera decrees that the IRA must fight a conventional war by attacking The Custom House. Collins objects, arguing that fighting conventionally will only allow the British to win, but the Irish Cabinet votes to support de Valera. The attack fails catastrophically, leaving six men dead and seventy captured. In the aftermath, Collins declares to de Valera that the IRA can only hold out for a month. Privately, however, he admits to Boland that he lied—the IRA will be lucky to hold out for another week. To his shock, however, the British soon call for a cease fire.

Michael Collins is ordered to London to participate in negotiations with the British, despite his objections that he isn't a diplomat. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty at 10, Downing Street in December 1921, de Valera erupts upon learning that the terms have been published without his agreement. Collins argues that de Valera sent him to London knowing how the negotiations would turn out, and insists that while the Treaty does not directly give them the Republic, it gives them the freedom to achieve it.

Despite de Valera's best efforts to have the Treaty rejected, the Dáil approves the Treaty by 64-57. De Valera, Boland, and their supporters resign in protest. Both Collins and de Valera make speeches around Ireland, trying to sway the people in their respective directions. Collins is attacked by an anti-Treaty Republican during a rally, but escapes unharmed. In the aftermath, he asks Kitty Kiernan to marry him and she accepts.

In June 1922, the Irish people vote to approve the Treaty. However, de Valera refuses to accept the results and orders the Anti-Treaty IRA to seize the Four Courts in Dublin. Ordered by the Irish Cabinet to retake the Four Courts, Collins is appalled at having to fight former comrades and friends. Arthur Griffith, however, informs him that, if the Irish Army won't deal with the situation, Winston Churchill and the British Army will. Left with no other choice, Collins and the newly-formed army of the Irish Free State go to war with the anti-Treaty forces.

In the Battle of Dublin, a running battle erupts in the streets as the Anti-Treaty IRA is driven from the city. Despite Collins' attempts to capture him alive, a wounded Harry Boland is fatally shot by a Free State sentry while trying to swim the Liffey.

Devastated by Harry's death, Collins travels home to County Cork. He reaches out to de Valera, asking for a peace conference. De Valera listens from a hiding place as Collins addresses an intermediary. "Tell him that he was always my Chief," declares Collins emotionally. "I would have followed him to Hell if he asked me, and maybe I did."

Collins declares that Boland's death was enough. He adds that he is sorry he didn't bring back an Irish republic from the negotiations, but that nobody could have. He concludes by saying that that all Irishmen must join together to build a nation. Although moved to tears, de Valera departs without giving any message in response. Without de Valera's knowledge, the intermediary (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) informs Collins that his Chief will be waiting for him at Béal na mBláth. A convoy of Irish Army vehicles heads there the following day. As they approach, forces of the Anti-Treaty IRA open fire from a nearby hillside. As Collins runs for cover, he is shot in the head by the intermediary from the previous night. A devastated Kitty is informed of his death just after trying on her wedding gown.

Completing his story, O'Reilly tells Kitty that Collins died so that all Irishmen, no matter what their stance on the Treaty, might one day live together in peace. He also tells her that Collins wouldn't want her to mourn as long as she has. Kitty responds, "He would have said it better, Joe."

The film ends with a montage of newsreel footage from Michael Collins' funeral. A eulogy states that, although a career soldier, Collins died in a failed effort to remove the gun from Irish politics. A 1966 statement by Éamon de Valera is superimposed:

It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it shall be recorded at my expense.



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 mBláth and the surrounding areas.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[5]


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.[3]

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.[6]

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.[7] The documentary on the DVD release of the film also discusses its fictional aspects.

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."[8]


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".[4] 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. [9]


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.[4] It received generally positive reviews, but was mildly criticized for some historical inaccuracies.[10]


  1. ^ The Irish Filmography 1896-1996; Red Mountain Press; 1996. Page 80
  2. ^ "The awards of the Venice Film Festival". Labiennale.org. http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/history/awards1.html?back=true. Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  3. ^ a b Neil Jordan, Michael Collins, Plume Press, 1996
  4. ^ a b c "Between Irish National Cinema and Hollywood: Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins" (PDF). http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/estudiosirlandeses/merivirta07.pdf. Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  5. ^ a b Goldstone, Patricia. Making the world safe for tourism, Yale University Press, 2001. p. 139
  6. ^ Fitzpatrick, David. Harry Boland's Irish Revolution, Cork University Press. p. 8.
  7. ^ "Michael Collins", The South Bank Show, 27 October 1996.
  8. ^ Ebert's review, published on October 25, 1996
  9. ^ http://www.bbfc.co.uk/AFF066354
  10. ^ Flynn, Roderick and Patrick Brereton. "Michael Collins", Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema, Scarecrow Press, 2007. Page 252.

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