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Michael Collins is a 1996 historical biopic about General Michael Collins, the Irishmarker patriot and revolutionary who died in the Irish Civil War. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.


The film opens in 1922, as a devastated Kitty Kiernan (Julia Roberts) mourns the death of her fiance, Michael Collins. With Kitty refusing even to leave her bed, Joe O'Reilly attempts to console her with tales of Collins' love for his country.

The film flashes back to 1916. The Easter Rising ends tragically, as Collins (Liam Neeson), Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn), and Éamon de Valera (Alan Rickman) surrender to the British Army. Although all other signatories of the Declaration of an Irish Republic are court martialed and shot, De Valera is spared as an American citizenmarker and imprisoned in mainland Britain. Collins and Boland are sent with the others to Frongoch internment campmarker in Walesmarker.

After their release, Collins runs as a member of the illegal First Dáil. While giving a campaign speech, the rally is attacked by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Collins is severely beaten, but is rescued by Boland. While recovering, they meet Kitty, who soon strikes up a romance with Boland. In the meantime, she and Collins remain friends.

In 1918, Collins is tipped off by Detective Ned Broy (Stephen Rea), a sympathiser in the Dublin Metropolitan Police, that the British plan to arrest de Valera and his Cabinet. However, de Valera forbids anyone to go into hiding, stating that the ensuing public outcry will force their immediate release. Everyone — except Collins and Boland — are arrested and imprisoned in England, and there are no protests in response.

In the aftermath, Collins orders the IRA to begin raiding the barracks of the R.I.C. and D.M.P. to supply themselves with guns. He also issues a statement that all collaboration with the British will be punished by death without trial. In order to carry out this threat, Collins orders Harry to recruit a private death squad from the IRA's Dublin Brigade. Then, using information supplied by Broy, Collins declares war on British Intelligence and the "G" Division of the D.M.P.

On Bloody Sunday, Ned Broy is caught burning documents in a hotel and lynch. Later that morning, Collins' death squad assassinates the British officers who make up the Cairo Gang. With their intelligence network destroyed, a combined force of the Black and Tans and the British Army retaliates by shooting up a Gaelic football match at Croke Parkmarker. In the aftermath, Boland and Collins travel to England and successfully break de Valera out of prison.

Enraged to realize that Collins has overshadowed him, de Valera announces that he will travel to the United Statesmarker in order to raise funds and seek diplomatic recognition from Woodrow Wilson. Hoping to keep Collins in line, he also orders Boland to accompany him. However, this cripples Collins' ability to wage war against the British. Before they depart, Collins informs Boland that de Valera fears leaving them alone together, "We might achieve that Republic he wants to talk to the world about."

After returning without any tangible results, de Valera expresses his belief that the IRA must fight a conventional war — like the Easter Rising — by attacking Dublin's Customs Housemarker. The attack fails catastrophically, leaving six men dead and seventy captured. In the aftermath, Collins declares to De Valera that the IRA can only hold out for a month. Privately, however, he admits to Boland that he lied - the IRA will be lucky to hold out for another week. To his shock, however, the British soon call for a ceasefire.

Despite insisting that he is not a statesman, Collins is ordered by De Valera to leave for Londonmarker as leader of the the negotiating team. During Collins' absence, Kitty informs a devastated Boland that she is in love with Collins.

After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, de Valera is enraged that the terms have been published without his sanction. Equally enraged, Collins accuses De Valera of deliberately trying to discredit him by sending him to the negotiatons in the first place. Meanwhile, the armed forces of the Irish Free State- under Collins's command - take over command of Dublin Castlemarker as the Union Jack is lowered and replaced with the Irish tricolor.

Despite de Valera's best efforts, the Dáil approves the Treaty by 64-57. In response, de Valera, Boland, and their supporters resign in protest. During a nation-wide plebiscite, Collins makes speeches in support of the Treaty. Meanwhile, de Valera rouses support against it and states that, "in order to preserve the Republic, the Volunteers will have to wade through Irish blood!" In an ironic parallel to the beginning of the film, Collins is again attacked during a rally and is nearly machine gunned to death by an Anti-Treaty Republican. In the aftermath, Collins asks Kitty Kiernan to marry him. Overjoyed, she accepts.

In June 1922, the Irish people vote to approve the Treaty. However, the Anti-Treaty IRA refuses to accept the results and seizes the Four Courtsmarker. After the Irish Cabinet orders him to clear them out, Collins agonizes over the possibility of having to fight and kill his former comrades. Arthur Griffith, however, informs him that, if the Irish Army won't deal with the situation, Winston Churchhill and the British Army will.

Soon after, in the Battle of Dublin, de Valera's supporters are attacked with artillery inside the Four Courtsmarker and driven from the city. Despite Collins' attempts to capture him alive, a wounded Harry Boland is fatally shot by a Free State sentry while trying to swim the Liffeymarker.

Devastated by Harry's death, Collins travels home to County Corkmarker. He reaches out to de Valera, asking for a peace conference. De Valera listens from a hiding place as Collins addresses an intermediary.

"Tell him that he was always my Chief," declares Collins emotionally. "I would have followed him to Hell if he asked me and maybe I did." He declares that Boland's death was enough and that all Irishmen must join together to build a nation. Although moved to tears, de Valera departs without giving any message in response. Without de Valera's knowledge or sanction, the intermediary (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) informs Collins that de Valera will be waiting for him in a farmhouse near Beal na mBlathmarker.

While traveling along an isolated country road, Collins jokes about inviting de Valera and the British Cabinet to attend his wedding to Kitty. Suddenly, the Anti-Treaty IRA opens up on the convoy from a nearby hillside. As Collins runs for cover, he is shot in the head by the intermediary from the previous night. A devastated Kitty is informed of his death just after trying on her wedding gown.

Completing his story, O'Reilly explains to Kitty that Collins gave his life so that all Irishmen, no matter what their stance on the Treaty, might one day live together in peace. He also tells her that Collins wouldn't want her to mourn as long as she has. Although deeply moved, Kitty says, "He would have said it better, Joe."

The film ends with a montage of actual footage from Michael Collins' funeral, accompanied by a eulogy commenting on the ironic fact that this career soldier died in a failed effort to remove the violence from Irish politics. A quote taken from a 1966 speech by Eamon de Valera is then superimposed.
"It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it shall be forever recorded at my expense."

Box office

The film grossed on opening in the U.S.A 15 million grossed over 70 million. UK 10 million Eire 4 million



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 Irelandmarker and the USAmarker. It received generally positive reviews, but was mildly criticized for some historical inaccuracies. With a budget estimated at between around $25 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. He was shot in a skirmish with Irish Free State soldiers in The Grand Hotel, Skerries, North Co. Dublin during 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 however, based on a well-known tradition.
  • In the film, Collins heads the delegation to Londonmarker 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. Neil Jordan denies on the DVD documentary that it was his intention to portray De Valera having anything to do with Collins' murder.
  • Joe O'Reilly was Collins bodyguard but was not present at Collins death
  • The movie fails to show that Collins was secretly planning a guerrilla war against the Pro-British/unionist forces in what became Northern Irelandmarker.
  • In the scene depicting the events of Bloody Sunday, an armoured car drives onto the pitch at Croke Park and mows down GAA player Michael Hogan with its machine gun 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 over the crowd fleeing from the initial shooting by a mixed group of Royal Irish Constabulary, Dublin Metropolitan Police, and Auxiliary Division officers, who were responsible for the twelve fatalities and numerous casualties in the grounds. 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 Castlemarker. 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 Officemarker, whereas it actually took place on Moore Streetmarker.
  • 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, 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. The documentary on the DVD release of the film also discusses its fictional aspects.


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


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


  1. The awards of the Venice Film Festival
  2. Neil Jordan, "Michael Collins", Plume Press, 1996
  3. Between Irish National Cinema and Hollywood: Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins
  4. Flynn, Roderick and Patrick Brereton. "Michael Collins", Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema, Scarecrow Press, 2007. Page 252.
  5. Goldstone, Patricia. Making the world safe for tourism, Yale University Press, 2001. Page 139
  6. Fitzpatrick, David. Harry Boland's Irish Revolution, Cork University Press. Page 8.
  7. Collins to Kevin O'Brien, Frongoch, 6 October 1916, quoted in Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins, Hutchinson, 1990.
  8. "Michael Collins", The South Bank Show, 27 October 1996.

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