On 6 April 1997, the film “Michael Collins” appeared on French screens. This biographical film retraces the political actions of Michael Collins, a man who shaped the face of present-day Ireland and who worked for Irish independence throughout his life.
April 1916: The Easter insurrection is a failure. Michael Collins, a nationalist deeply committed to the pro-independence cause, together with Eamon De Valera and his best friend, sets up a violent and murderous guerrilla war against British imperialism in order to obtain the total liberation of Ireland.
Michael Collins, a clever strategist, created a real army, advocating infiltrated armed struggle, sowing terror among the representatives of the British Empire. From assassination to assassination, Collins’ army creates more and more tensions within the London government. Michael Collins soon turns out to be an embarrassing character, and the British Empire decides to go through the negotiation process…
Michael Collins then signed the Treaty of Division of Ireland, giving the North to the British, but making the South an independent and autonomous Republic.
The film is meant to be biographical, and therefore includes the story of this militant for Independence, until the signing of the Treaty dividing Ireland in two, then ends with the terrible ambush that caused his death.
Neil Jordan presents during his film, the portrait of Michael Collins through a somewhat romanticized vision. In order to make the film more digestible to the public, he uses as a backdrop a rose-water story in which Michael Collins falls in love with his best friend, a young Irish girl played by Julia Roberts.
This angle allows him to draw a human portrait, and thus makes him a symbol, so that we find in him the image of an Irish like the others, engaged in a complex struggle that he does not master. But Michael Collins is above all a patriot, and an intelligent man, whose finesse allows him to envisage an effective clandestine struggle and to lead a guerrilla war in the name of the liberation of Ireland. He is gradually becoming a living icon, a symbol of courage and devotion.
Neil Jordan pushes however the analysis by showing that Michael Collins tries to obtain peace, through a guerrilla war. This ambiguity testifies to the need to push the action towards violent extremes, rather than towards diplomatic means (means that will only see the light of day after the struggle, when the treaty requesting the abandonment of the North is signed).
Michael Collins’ film shows the rise of the leader, up to the signing of the treaty, the controversies it causes, as well as the danger it ends up representing, up to his untimely death, caused by an attack.
The film Michael Collins is to be seen because of its prestigious cast (Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Charles Dance, Ian Hart …) It accurately addresses the various parameters of the war led by the Irish nationalists, with their questions and awareness. However, Neil Jordan develops the image of Michael Collins in a way that is sometimes too smooth, because it is too Hollywoodian. The film turns Michael Collins into a legendary hero, whose exemplary patriotic convictions are glorified through grandiloquent sequences sometimes expressed to excess.
Moreover, the film sometimes strays through a sentimental story that is a little too light…