Michael Collins (film)

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Michael Collins
Michael collins dvd.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNeil Jordan
Written byNeil Jordan
Produced byStephen Woolley
CinematographyChris Menges
Edited by
  • J. Patrick Duffner
  • Tony Lawson
Music byElliot Goldenthal
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • 28 August 1996 (1996-08-28) (VIFF)
  • 11 October 1996 (1996-10-11)
Running time
132 minutes[1]
United Kingdom
United States
Budget$25 million[2]
Box office$27.5 million[3]

Michael Collins is a 1996 biographical period drama film written and directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson as the Irish revolutionary, soldier, and politician Michael Collins, who was a leading figure in the early-20th-century Irish struggle for independence. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival[4] and was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Cinematography at the 69th Academy Awards.


At the close of the Easter Rising in 1916, the besieged Irish rebels surrender to the British Army at the Irish Republican headquarters in Dublin. Several key figures of the Rising; Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke and James Connolly are executed. Éamon de Valera is spared execution due to his American citizenship, but is imprisoned alongside Michael Collins and Harry Boland.

The 1918 Irish general election results in the victorious Sinn Féin party to unilaterally declare Irish independence, beginning the Irish War of Independence. De Valera is elected President, Collins is appointed Director of Intelligence for the emerging IRA. Ned Broy, officially a member of the loyalist G Division sympathizes with the independence cause, and tips Collins off that the Castle intends to arrest the entire Cabinet that evening. De Valera, sensing that the arrest will spark an international outcry dissuades his cabinet from going into hiding, and allow their arrests to take place. Collins and Boland evade arrest, though there is no response to the wider action.

As the last senior leader still free, Collins begins a counter-intelligence campaign with help from Broy. Numerous assassinations take place on agents and Irish collaborators by the IRA's Dublin Brigade. De Valera soon breaks out of Lincoln Prison, but announces upon returning to Ireland that he will go to the United States to seek President Woodrow Wilson's official recognition of the Irish Republic. The war continues to intensify; the British assign SIS Officer Soames to counter the IRA, though he and several of his agents are assassinated in an attack orchestrated by Collins. To retaliate, the Black and Tans are sent to Dublin to brutally suppress unarmed civilians in support of independence, culminating in a massacre at Croke Park, where 14 people are killed during a peaceful Gaelic football game. Broy's assistance to Collins is also discovered by Soames, who subsequently has Broy tortured and killed.

De Valera returns from America, unable to secure President Wilson's support. The British hint at direct communication with the Irish, though Collins' guerilla campaign has boded poorly for Ireland's image, therefore de Valera decrees that the IRA must fight as a conventional army; though Collins knows that this will just lead to another defeat against the might of the British Empire. Adamant at securing peace, de Valera orders an attack on The Custom House, but the IRA suffer heavy casualties and the attack fails catastrophically. Despite the desperate situation the IRA now find themselves in, the British unexpectedly call for a ceasefire.

Collins is sent to London to negotiate Irish interests as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which is signed in 1921. Though the Republic is not immediately granted independence, the treaty grants Ireland to achieve it over time whilst also becoming a British dominion during the interim, plus the cost of six of the nine Ulster counties. De Valera is furious upon learning of this, who sought unconditional independence for Ireland. As a result, de Valera and his supporters resign in protest, including Boland. The subsequent people's vote backs the terms of the treaty, though de Valera rejects the result, and in 1922 leads a seizure on the Four Courts in Dublin, the IRA lead by Collins are ordered to retake it. In the Battle of Dublin, Boland is killed.

Devastated upon learning about his friend's death, Collins journeys to West Cork, where de Valera is in hiding to mediate peace. Collins, however, is misdirected by de Valera's associates, and he is led into an ambush where he is shot and killed. Kitty Kiernan, the love interest of Collins, is informed of the latter's death just as she tries on a wedding gown.



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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[2] 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.[2]

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.[5] Aengus O'Malley, a great grandnephew of Michael Collins, played the role of a student filmed in Marsh's Library.

Historical alterations[edit]

Although based on historical events, the film contains some alterations and fictionalisations, such as the dramatised circumstances of Harry Boland's death and Ned Broy's fate and significant alterations to the formative years of Dáil Éireann and to the prelude to the events of the Bloody Sunday at Croke Park. Neil Jordan defended his film by saying that it could not provide an entirely accurate account of events since it was a two-hour film that had to be understandable to an international audience that would not know the minutiae of Irish history.[7] The documentary on the DVD release of the film also discusses its fictional aspects.

The critic Roger Ebert referred to the closing quotation from de Valera that history would vindicate Collins at his own expense by 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]

According to Alan Rickman, in the script there was a scene which made it clear that his character was not involved in the death of Michael Collins, however this was cut (either by the director or the studio) in order to focus on a more romantic rather than political ending.[9] Jordan's film heavily implies that de Valera had a hand in the assassination.

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, County Dublin, in the aftermath of 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 based on a well-known tradition.[10]


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".[6] The video release was given a 12 certificate.

The film was rated 15 in the United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Classification.[11]

The film was rated R in the United States by the Motion Picture Association of America.


The film became the highest-grossing film ever in Ireland upon its release, making IR£ 4 million. In 2000, it was second only to Titanic in this category.[6]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics, but was criticized by some for its historical inaccuracies.[12] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 78% based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 6.90/10. The site's consensus states: "As impressively ambitious as it is satisfyingly impactful, Michael Collins honors its subject's remarkable achievements with a magnetic performance from Liam Neeson in the title role."[13] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100 based on reviews from 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[14] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[15]

Irish journalist Kevin Myers, who is known for his criticism of physical force Irish republicanism, praised the film in his Irish Times column, writing, "I think it is magnificent. I was unable to leave the cinema at its end, so profoundly moved and saddened was I; and I can understand why Neil Jordan has been so personally offended by criticism of the film in Ireland and in Britain. It is a film which shows his passionate commitment to the subject, to the film, to Ireland, and, I believe, to peace."[16]

Geoff Andrew, writing in Time Out, said, "This is Jordan's most ambitious and satisfying movie - a thriller with a real sense of scale, pace, menace and moral import."[17]

In Variety, the film was described as "Staggeringly well-made... a film of tremendous action, incident and momentum."[18]

Ian Nathan of Empire awarded the film four stars out of five, and described it as a "mature, passionate biography of the tragic Irish evolutionary [which] takes a considered, intelligent stance."[19]

Irish writer Graham Linehan gave the film a positive review in the British film magazine Neon, and said, "If you’re Irish, the film obviously carries a huge emotional punch. But if you’re British, and you have even an iota of interest in a country that, after all, is RIGHT BESIDE YOU, then I suggest you toddle along."[20]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four.[8]



  1. ^ "MICHAEL COLLINS". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on 21 December 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Goldstone, Patricia. Making the world safe for tourism, Yale University Press, 2001. p. 139 ISBN 0-300-08763-2
  3. ^ "Michael Collins (1996) - Financial Information". The-numbers.com. Archived from the original on 10 September 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  4. ^ "The awards of the Venice Film Festival". Labiennale.org. Archived from the original on 14 February 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  5. ^ a b Neil Jordan, Michael Collins, Plume Press, 1996 ISBN 0-452-27686-1
  6. ^ a b c "Between Irish National Cinema and Hollywood: Neil Jordan's Michael Collins" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  7. ^ "Michael Collins", The South Bank Show, 27 October 1996.
  8. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (25 October 1996). "Michael Collins movie review & film summary (1996)". Chicago Sun Times. Archived from the original on 15 December 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Acting Against Expectations", The Irish Times, 5 May 2001.
  10. ^ Fitzpatrick, David. Harry Boland's Irish Revolution, Cork University Press. p. 8. ISBN 1-85918-222-4
  11. ^ "MICHAEL COLLINS | British Board of Film Classification". BBFC.co.uk. Archived from the original on 19 August 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  12. ^ Flynn, Roderick and Patrick Brereton. "Michael Collins", Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema, Scarecrow Press, 2007. Page 252. ISBN 978-0-8108-5557-1
  13. ^ "Michael Collins (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 13 June 2020. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  14. ^ "Michael Collins". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  15. ^ "CinemaScore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 9 August 2019. Retrieved 8 October 2021. Each film's score can be accessed from the website's search bar.
  16. ^ Kevin Myers, From the Irish Times column An Irishman's Diary (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), p. 41
  17. ^ Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide (London: Time Out, 2009), p. 638
  18. ^ Variety Movie Guide 2001 (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001), p. 553
  19. ^ Ian Nathan, Empire Film Guide (London: Virgin Books, 2007), p. 689
  20. ^ Scans of Neon magazine

External links[edit]