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Movies & TV

24th Feb 2016

JOE’s Film Flashback: Michael Collins (1996)

Colm Boohig

JOE’s Spoiler Series… Michael Collins.

Welcome to JOE’s Film Flashback, where we take you behind the scenes of some of the finest motion pictures ever made. This is your *SPOILER ALERT* warning, no more excuses now.

Ready? Then follow us as we find out all there is know about a classic modern day adaptation of Irish history, Michael Collins.

Film Flashback

Title: Michael Collins

Director: Neil Jordan

Irish release date: November 8, 1996

Worldwide box office: $11,092,559

Irish certificate rating: PG/12 (video rating)

Tag Line: ‘Ireland, 1916. His dreams inspired hope. His words inspired passion. His courage forged a nation’s destiny.’

Clip via YouTube/Warner Bros.

Plot’s it all about?

Michael Collins is a biopic blockbuster about the Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Collins, and his fight for Irish independence against the British Empire.

Starring Liam Neeson as the titular character and shot largely on the streets of Dublin, Michael Collins captivated and divided audiences alike, just as the man himself did decades previously.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Collins, and with the blu-ray and cinema re-release set for March, now is as good a time as any to look behind-the-scenes at an Irish classic.

Liam Neeson was only brought on board when the new director arrived

It really is hard to imagine anybody besides Liam Neeson portraying the rebellious figurehead, but the original lead/director pairing looked a lot different.

At the outset, Michael Cimino, responsible for films like The Deer Hunter, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Year of the Dragon, was scheduled to direct, with the likes of Kevin Costner and Walkinstown native Gabriel Byrne set for the lead role, at various times.

Liam N

Instead, Sligo director Neil Jordan, who had won an Oscar for The Crying Game, took over and Cimino has not directed a feature movie for the last 20 years.

Neeson was Jordan’s indisputable first choice, having seen the Antrim actor star in the theatre.

Despite being 43 at the time, the Taken hero thrilled viewers with his portrayal of the 31-year-old Collins.

Neil Jordan had actually written the movie way back at the start of his career

Not long after completing his first ever motion picture, Angel, back in 1982, a young Jordan was asked to write a film about Michael Collins.

There were a couple of initial stumbling blocks though; he didn’t know anything about Collins, and when he did find out more about him, he didn’t like what he read.


Image via generalmichaelcollins

Eventually, he became fascinated with the former Minister for Finance’s character, as well as his almost contradictory actions of starting an army before attempting to decommission it; a trait that embodied a lot of Irish society between 1916 and 1922.

It took over a decade for the concept of the movie to be realised and, as we saw above, it very nearly didn’t happen for Jordan.

However, after the success of his major flick, Interview with the Vampire, Jordan used his new-found fame to bring his Collins script out of the woodwork, and away he went.

Neeson Collins

Jordan also wasn’t the only one who had an interest in making the movie, with Richard Harris and Robert Redford both, reportedly, keen to do something on the project in the preceding years.

However, neither plan came to fruition.

Liam Neeson may have been a shoo-in, but the rest of the roles weren’t so assured

The recently departed Alan Rickman was superb as Eamon de Valera, but the iconic actor was not first choice.

His opportunity only arose when John Turturro rejected the offer of the role. Meanwhile, Irish-American actor Aidan Quinn was only able to portray Harry Boland because Matt Dillon couldn’t commit.

Alan Rickman

Perhaps most eye-opening was Julia Roberts’ inclusion.

Like Brad Pitt in True Romance, the Oscar winner became involved in the movie after ringing up Jordan and declaring her interest in playing the character of Kitty; the love triangle-cause between Michael and Harry.

While her performance was very impressive overall, her attempt at the, admittedly difficult, Irish accent was not universally appreciated.

Julia Roberts

The film was also a very early introduction for audiences to Cork actor, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who played the crucial role of the assassin. The position only arose after Tom Cruise was unable to appear in a cameo role.

Lastly, Brendan Gleeson may have played a small part in the film, but his influence off-screen was significant.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Neeson was known to regularly ask Gleeson for advice between takes, having featured as Collins in the 1991 movie, The Treaty.

This was a time before CGI was in widespread use, so filming was very real

Dublin virtually came to a standstill at periods during the shoot 20 years ago, but Dublin City Council and the majority of the general public were fully on board.

Jordan has referenced one scene, Collins’ bombing of The Four Courts, where virtually the entirety of Dublin was closed from the Ha’penny Bridge to Phoenix Park, with traffic, at one stage, backed up as far as Wicklow.

Bombs Dublin

Incidentally, the infamous Croke Park scene, where the British Army invaded the pitch and massacred players and fans, was filmed at the Carlisle Grounds – home to Bray Wanderers.

Clip via Lefan123

The score used in the final scene was a rejected choice for the finale of Heat

The music used for the very last scene of Michael Collins, when the actual footage of his funeral is shown and the facts are displayed on screen, is spine-tingling.

Clip via Liam Phelan

The beautiful score is called ‘Funeral/Coda’ by Elliot Goldenthal and was actually supposed to play over the final scene of the epic Heat, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

That was before director Michael Mann decided against it, and went instead with Moby’s ‘God Moving Over the Face of the Waters’.

Before you watch the clip below, if you haven’t seen 1995’s Heat, beware of the spoiler that awaits.

Clip via holz0r