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Michael Collins (film)

Michael Collins a 1996 biopic about Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary who died in the Irish Civil War.

Plot Summary

The film begins at the event of the 1916 Easter Rising. In no time the heavy artillery fire of the British causes the occupants of Dublins GPO to surrender.Michael Collins, Harry Boland and Eamon de Valera are captured, along with others and the signatories of the Declaration of an Irish Republic. While the other IRA Leaders are court-martialled and shot, Valera and Collins are imprisoned. In 1919 Collins and Boland are released. Collins runs as a member of the illegal Dáil and is beaten up by the Royal Irish Constabulary. While recovering he meets Kitty Kiernan. While organizing the IRA, Collins and Boland break De Valera out of a English jail {April 1919}. The war against the British escalates: when Collins men kill the Cairo Gang, the Black and Tans retaliate with Bloody Sunday{21 November 1920}. Throughout the movie the gap between Collins and De Valera grows:

  • 1919: when Collins is tipped off the British will arrest the Irish Cabinet, De Valera forbids anyone to hide and hopes world protest will let the arrested men go. Everyone-except Collins and Boland-are arrested; there is no international outcry of protest.
  • After freeing De Valera from prison, De Valera takes Boland to America to campaign and raise funds, but cripples Collins' ability to run the IRA.
  • De Valera comes back with no tangible results.He feels that to strengthen their negotiating position, the IRA must fight a conventional war-such as the 1916 rising-by attacking Dublin's The Custom House {November 1921}. The IRA is defeated with 6 dead and 70 captured and Collins realizes the IRA can only hold out for a week.
  • Despite his protests, Collins is made a member of the negotiating team at De Valera's insistence. When Collins comes back with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, De Valera is enraged that he had not been consulted about it. Collins takes the surrender of the British at Dublin Castle. When the Dáil approves the Treaty, De Valera and his deputies leave the Dáil {January 7, 1922}. During a country wide campaign for the Irish people to either approve or disaprove the Treaty, Collins makes speeches in support of the treaty, Dev Valera makes speeches extolling the anti-treaty Irregulars.

June 1922-the Irish People approve the treaty; the Irish Civil War breaks out and in Dublin the Irregulars are driven from the Four Courts; Harry Boland is killed by Free State Soldiers {July 31, 1922} and Collins leaves for County Cork to negotiate an end to the 3 month civil War. While travelling near Béal na mBláth, he is killed by Irregulars in a ambush (August 22, 1922).



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, the UK and the USA. It received generally positive reviews, but was mildly criticized for some historical inaccuracies. With a budget estimated at between $35 to $40 million, receiving 10% to 12% of its budget from the Irish Film Board, the film was one of the most expensive films ever produced in Ireland. While still filming, the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire caused the film's release to be delayed from June to December which caused Warner Brothers executive Rob Friedman to pressure the director to reshoot the ending which focused on the love story between Collins and Kiernan in an attempt to downplay the breakdown of Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Historical alterations

Although based on historical events, the film does contain some alterations and fictionalizations:

  • In the scene in which Dáil Éireann is meeting in secret, Collins is referred to as the Minister for Intelligence. In fact, he was the Dáil Minister for Finance and the Director of Intelligence for the IRA; the roles had no formal link, and neither position had control over the other.
  • Harry Boland did not die in the manner suggested by the film. His last words in the film - "Have they got Mick Collins yet?" - are however, based on a well-known tradition.
  • In the film, Collins heads the delegation to London that negotiates the Anglo-Irish Treaty; in reality, it was led by Arthur Griffith, with Collins as his deputy.
  • The character of Edward "Ned" Broy of the Dublin Metropolitan Police is a composite of many different police officers. The real Broy was a member of G Division, an intelligence branch of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, based not in Dublin Castle - as in the film - but in Marlborough Street. Michael Collins' main agent in Dublin Castle was David Neligan. Like Broy, he also survived the conflict and later headed the Irish Special Branch. In the film the character is killed during Bloody Sunday.
  • In the film Collins is told that Frank Thornton was shot in West Cork, a week before his own trip to Cork. Thornton however was wounded in an ambush outside Clonmel County Tipperary, a day before Collins himself was killed.
  • The film is ambiguous in the scene involving Collins's assassination, only showing the assassin asking de Valera if he has a message for Collins. It then cuts to the assassin returning to meet Collins and telling him where de Valera will meet him the next day. Neal Jordan denies on the DVD documentary that it was his intention to portray De Valera having anything to do with Collins' murder.
  • In the scene depicting the events of Bloody Sunday, an Armoured Car drives onto the pitch at Croke Park and mows down a cheeky GAA player with its machine guns before firing into the crowd. In real life the Armoured Car remained outside the gates of Croke Park as it would not fit through the archway and it only fired warning shots in the air, the 14 fatalities and numerous casualties in the grounds were caused by British Army Auxiliaries and the police. On the DVD commentary Neil Jordan said he could not figure out a way of showing the reality of the event without making the British Army look like "bad guys".
  • The film depicts a carload of hardline northern unionist detectives sent to "deal" with Collins and the IRA being blown up in Dublin Castle. In fact, no killings of police took place in Dublin Castle and car-bombs were largely unknown at the time. Some commentators have contended that the filmmakers were trying to draw a connection between the Irish War of Independence and the later Troubles, when car-bombs were common. Neil Jordan has also denied this.
  • In the movie, the surrender at the end of the Easter Rising appears to take place outside the General Post Office, whereas it actually took place on Moore Street.
  • Collins says "I would have followed him through hell..." in reference to de Valera; in reality, he was referring to James Connolly, comparing him to Pádraig Pearse:

"Of Pearse and Connolly I admire the latter most. Connolly was a realist, Pearse the direct opposite . . . I would have followed him [Connolly] through hell had such action been necessary. But I honestly doubt very much if I would have followed Pearse — not without some thought anyway."

  • A statement in the film that the Irish Free State was formed at the beginning of 1922, following the Dáil's approval of the Treaty, has since appeared as fact on various websites, even though the Irish Free State did not officially come into being until December 1922.

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. He makes this argument and speaks on other artistic choices made for the film in the documentary on the making of the film, produced by the British television show The South Bank Show. The documentary on the DVD release of the film discusses its fictional aspects.


The score was written by acclaimed composer Elliot Goldenthal, and features performances by Sinéad O'Connor.


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". The video release was, however, given a 12 certificate.


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