'Michael Collins' tackles more than Irish history
November 8, 1996
Web posted at: 5:45 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- Even in advance of its premiere in Britain,
the movie "Michael Collins" generated enormous press coverage
and touched off heated debate about how such films portray
"Michael Collins" tells the story of the Irish activist from
the 1916 Easter uprising against the British to his
assassination by fellow Republicans six years later.
The film cuts to the heart of Irish history, as the epic
struggle of Collins' Irish Volunteers encompasses not only
the triumph of a free Irish Republic but also the tragedy of
Northern Ireland, where bloody battles continue today.
Film critic Derek Malcolm, however, believes no one could
make a film about Irish history without controversy.
"There is so much argument about Ireland that it would not be
possible for any filmmaker, whether he was Irish or not, to
make a historical film that didn't cause a great deal of
fuss," Malcolm says.
Still, critics say the film should come with a "cultural
"What's missing from this film is pretty massive," says peace
activist Gary Kent. "There's no mention, for instance, of
constitutional nationalism. There's no mention in reality of
the problem or the existence of Northern Ireland and the
majority of the people there who didn't want to be part of an
But while Kent says the film distorts history, Thaddeus
O'Sullivan says it's all interpretation.
"I think there's a certain impartiality which can be
achieved. Which can explain maybe emotionally to an audience
what to see in a history. But historians no more get it right
than artists do," says O'Sullivan, who directed the film
"Nothing Personal," which focuses on loyalist paramilitary
violence in Northern Ireland.
"The events that I portrayed in the film not only happened,
but were still happening up to the point when the cease-fire
was declared last year," he says. "What I have done is try to
explode some of the complexity behind all of that."
Then there are the claims that such films romanticize
"The further you get away from the epicenter of terrorism in
Europe and elsewhere, the more likely it is that more
gullible people who are fooled by this romantic and naive
versions of history might be fooled into donating money,
putting money into the coffers of terrorism," says Kent.
"I believe all the filmmakers, whether they're good, bad or
indifferent, are desperate to make films that are actually
anti-violence. They may not be particularly pro-British, but
they're certainly anti-violence," says Malcolm.
Still others say the debate is much ado about nothing.
"I think the impact is minimal and superficial. I don't
believe films such as 'Michael Collins' change people's
views. I think it's possible that they reinforce existing
positions and prejudices. But I don't believe that they have
a major political impact," says Andrew Hunter, British
Parliament member of the Select Committee for Northern
That, in turn, could determine the film's box office impact.
After all, cinematic epics are not just about explaining
history, but making it entertaining.
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