I know quite literally nothing about Irish history, heritage or really anything about the culture or people who live there. Not that it doesn’t interest me, just there’s so many other pieces of history to look into. If only every bit of history had a biopic as interesting and formidable as Michael Collins, a Liam Neeson led 90s film following the Irish Civil War and the split between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The rise, fall and impact are documented thoroughly in what is possibly one of the finest historical biopics of all.
As the titular role of the film, Neeson provides a stellar performance that really highlights his perseverance regardless of character. He shines as Michael Collins, a plucky, charismatic leader responsible for resisting British takeover of Ireland in the post-World War 1 period. Alongside Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman) and Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), the trio try numerous ways of freeing the Irish people from the clutches of the British Empire. Rickman and Quinn are incredibly well cast and provide some strong performances themselves, managing to embitter and battle with Collins for much of the film. They act more as “the other side of the story” as it were, with de Valera and Collins coming to verbal blows a handful of times during the film.
Just to preface, I won’t pretend to understand the politics of the Northern Irish and Irish split, because I don’t, but Michael Collins does a good enough explanation of the facts and figures surrounding this time period. A story of claiming back a country from the clutches of a villainous empire, the only difference being this isn’t a fiction. Collins and his comrades fight back in impressive montage scenes that highlight the underhand tactics of both sides in tremendous detail. Collins’ chemistry with everyone around him is a key detail as to why the rebellion was so successful, and Neeson’s performance manages to drive this home in astounding detail.
The supporting performances feel fully fleshed out too. Michael Collins isn’t a biopic of the man himself, but of what he stood for, with the foundation of his belief system firmly rooted in the film the whole way through. For the most part, everything is fleshed out in enough detail to get by, but the romantic triangle between Collins, Boland and Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts). By all means is it a strong performance from Roberts, it just feels out of place in a film so wrapped up in thrilling and gory detail of civil uprising.
A certainly solid biopic, and by today’s standards is a far stretch greater than the majority of factually fictionalised accounts of historical events. Michael Collins is a tight, well performed biopic that provides an entry level of facts, blending entertainment value with educational information in a rare way that makes it an interesting and enjoyable watch.