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Film: Michael Collins

Michael Collins is a 1996 biopic about the eponymous Irish revolutionary. It was directed by Neil Jordan and starred Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Charles Dance, and Julia Roberts.

Set between 1916 and 1922 the story follows Michael Collins (Neeson) as he builds the Irish Republican Army into a fighting force capable of taking on the British Empire, and achieving independence for Ireland. While he eventually succeeds in driving the British Government to the bargaining table, the compromises that must be made serve to drive the Irish apart, and Collins finds himself at war with his own former comrades and friends.

The film has a slightly undeserved reputation for historical inaccuracy; while it does take certain liberties and definitely conflates certain characters, it doesn't approach the level of Braveheart. It also doesn't pretend to be remotely objective.

A huge hit in Ireland where the real life Collins is a national hero. It is, in fact, the most successful Irish-produced movie ever made. Helping was its being given the Irish equivalent of a PG rating (despite its highly violent content); the board decided that, due to its historical material, parents should be allowed to determine whether or not their children should see it.


This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic License - History: Inevitable, of course. Of particular note is the film's depiction of the Croke Park massacre on Bloody Sunday 1920 (there have been several Bloody Sundays in Ireland), and the death of Harry Boland.
  • Badass: Michael Collins, starting as a failed bit player in the Easter rising before becoming a Magnificent Bastard Western Terrorist who brings the British authorities in Ireland to their knees. From the British perspective it could also double as From Nobody to Nightmare.
  • Character Title
  • Combat Pragmatist - The IRA. Use of an Improvised Weapon? Check. Creeping up and assassinating officials? Check. Car bombs? Check. Collins himself pioneered this "urban guerrilla warfare" which was taken up by movements from Israel to China.
  • Composite Character - The film version of Ned Broy is a mix of the real life Broy (who actually survived the war, becoming chief of the Irish police force), David Neligan (who never got caught), and others.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Collins big time, Broy and Bollard to lesser extents.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous - "The Squad" in the IRA. Also known as "The Twelve Apostles."
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Collins does this to Kitty at a train station after some British soldiers ask to see her papers ("Can a man not say goodbye to his wife in peace?"). Kitty is rather unimpressed.
  • A Father to His Men: Collins, who takes Crazy-Prepared measures to keep his men alive during Bloody Sunday and is almost tearful when he realizes that Broy has been arrested and is most likely doomed.
  • Firing Squad - What the leaders of the Easter Rising get to face. De Valera doesn't since he was born in America, and the British government can't risk alienating the US as an ally in World War One.
  • Foregone Conclusion - The film starts with Joe O'Reilly consoling Kitty over the death of Collins.
  • Grey and Grey Morality - After the British leave war breaks out between Collins' faction and the hard-line republicans. The film sympathises with Collins but his Irish opponents aren't totally demonized either.
  • Great Escape - A minor one based on Real Life allowing De Valera to escape by using a wax mold of the prison key from Lincoln Gaol in London (now HMP Lincoln).
  • Historical-Domain Character - Practically everyone (through Composite Character in some cases).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade - Éamon de Valera.
    • In part, this is due to poor communication; many interpret the film as falsely suggesting that de Valera was responsible for the assassination of Michael Collins, which was never the director's intent.
    • Even though it showed De Valera being not at all aware of the plan to assassinate Collins-rather, extremely upset by the divide which occurred between them.
  • Improvised Weapon - Collins' use of a flaming sod of turf and some empty rifles in order to obtain weapons from the RIC.
  • In Medias Res - The film begins when Kitty finds out that Michael is killed. It then flashes back six years.
  • The Irish Revolution
  • Its Pronounced Tropay - His name is not Boy, it's Broy.
  • La Résistance - Until the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed, Collins is always a member or leader of these.
  • Love Triangle - Between Michael, his best friend Boland, and Kitty. It happened in Real Life too, and helped to drive them apart.
  • Meaningful Funeral - Collins' actual funeral and the fact that it was attended to by 500,000 people, 1/5th of the population of Ireland.
  • More Dakka - Collins tells his IRA subordinates to account for every bullet they use when engaging RIC officers. So an aversion. Collins was actually Finance Minister in the underground Sinn Fein government of Ireland at the time, and had been an accountant with the Royal Mail before, giving him a head for those matters.
    • A minor one occurs with the killing of an RIC detective. When reading the papers about the incident which say he was "riddled with bullets", Collins calls his men out on it, telling them that bullets don't grow on trees and that "[they] did well, but go easy on the riddlin'."
  • Nice Hat - At the ceremony to take down the British flag Collins asks the British officer if he (Collins) gets the hat, too.
  • Oireland - Thoroughly averted.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping - Roberts' accent is infamously bad. The common consensus is that Aidan Quinn's accent is also patchy at best, but you don't notice it because Roberts' is so much worse.
    • Rickman's occasionally slips too, if only slightly.
  • Oh Crap - Collins' realization that the duplicate prison key broke.
    • A major one after the Bloody Sunday operation against the Cairo gang is conducted. Collins is happy until he hears Broy is missing.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: The film consistently depicts the morality of the IRA's terrorist/guerrilla war against the UK largely in terms of what side Collins is on. When Collins is for revolution, revolution is the answer; when Collins decides that the revolution is over and turns his forces against those who want to keep the war going, that's that. The movie makes only half-hearted attempts at ambiguity, clearly basing itself on the audience siding with Collins.
  • Refuge in Audacity - One of the most wanted men in Ireland doesn't even bother with disguises while blithely cycling around Dublin. Truth in Television.
    • This is because Collins went to great pains to ensure that his face was never photographed, hence the English literally had no idea who they were looking of. He finally revealed himself at the infamous treaty negotiations.
    • In the film, the government agents are frustrated by the fact that the only photograph they have of him is from behind, with only half his face showing.
    • At least one government agent is killed by simply walking up and shooting him in broad daylight.
  • Reverse Mole - Broy.
  • Rousing Speech - Collins stumps for a candidate, turning the crowd to his favor (even when though he says the man they would be voting for is in prison), gets attacked by the police and persuades Broy to switch allegiances.
  • Stiff Upper Lip - A rare villainous example: The intelligence agent in the park who is given a chance to say a prayer before being shot.
  • The Irish Question
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified
  • The Troubles
  • Weapon for Intimidation - In an early scene, the IRA hold up an RIC barracks using a flaming sod of turf and some empty rifles in order to get loaded guns.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The heart of the controversy surrounding the film.

MichaelFilms of the 1990sThe Mirror Has Two Faces

alternative title(s): Michael Collins
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