Top critical review
The Story of a Freedom Fighter
on March 11, 2004
Michael Collins was one of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion that finally brought freedom to Ireland. He survived the 1916 Easter Rebellion. The film shows him addressing a crowd, saying they must stay united for independence. The police break up this meeting by beating Michael and the others; no First Amendment here. Michael learns to gather supplies from the enemy, and information from a secret source. Michael is able to infiltrate police headquarters to search their files! He decides to gather information on all of the secret police, and send them warning messages. The organizing continues. Michael helps De Valera escape from prison, and then travel to America to gain support from public opinion and President Wilson. The struggle continues against the Empire. The British stage reprisals at a sports stadium. [Does this look like it was taken from 'Gandhi'?]
De Valera returns from America, and changes the tactics to open warfare; this results in more losses for these urban guerrillas. But De Valera is holding talks with the British; this escalation results in truce talks. Michael is sent to negotiate a treaty with the British. The Irish gain the Free State, but lose the northern counties. [After the Turkish Empire fell, Britain took over the Near East and its oil; Ireland has no oil.] Michael returned as the messenger with bad news. The realistic Michael knows this is a first step towards a Republic. The Treaty is accepted by a narrow margin; De Valera's faction walks out of Parliament in disgust. The Treaty is accepted by the people, and British forces leave in 1922. Those who refuse to accept the Treaty being the Troubles. [There is no mention of the conflicting classes involved.]
De Valera's faction stages an armed takeover in parts of the country. This time it is the Irish Army who puts down the Rebellion, a repeat of the opening scenes. [The scene of the underground chase reminds me of 'The Third Man'.] Michael asks to meet De Valera to arrange an end to the fighting; but he must travel to West Cork, still under De Valera's control. A trap is set to ambush this convoy (the lead rider wasn't far enough in advance to send a warning). Michael is shot and killed; De Valera becomes the unopposed leader (no explanations why). After WW II and a weakened British Empire, Ireland becomes a Republic. The northern counties are still separated (so far).
This film condenses the story of the Irish Revolution down to the interplay between a few personalities. The political and economic issues are skipped over, but this would make it educational rather than entertaining. The lack of a happy ending suggests a commercial failure. Those who know the history of those times can say how accurate this film is. Did Michael Collins have the support of those who wanted normal trade relations with Britain? Did De Valera represent the farmers? Was their rivalry comparable to Hamilton and Burr? The aftermath of WW II saw many liberated colonial countries where similar troubles recurred.