It’s easy to see why it might happen. He was a young, handsome patriot who looked dashing in uniform and knowingly signed his own death warrant.
That cowardly assassination attempt in West Cork 100 years ago this week certainly made Michael Collins an enduring matinee idol.
Within four years of his death, the first major biography of Piaras Béaslaí was written. Since then there have been endless interpretations of a life lived to the full, by the likes of Frank O’Connor in the late 1930s and Tim Pat Coogan some sixty years later.
And yet they come. Paper never rejects ink, and the Big Fellow seems endlessly tempting to academics and irresistible to publishers.
Then there was Neil Jordan’s blockbuster 1996 film, which transported a man who had already become legend from story to celluloid myth.
Once that has happened, it is very difficult to turn a man back into fallible flesh and blood. The hard courts of historical research have a hard time asserting themselves.
It’s even easier to understand why Collins is not remembered only for what he accomplished, but is burdened with wild speculation about how his untimely death morally impoverished the nascent state – as if all the things we wrote on the Getting there wrong could have been avoided if only Collins was there to guide us through those formative decades.
It doesn’t seem to matter that few of the man’s words—spoken or written—suggested that he possessed a social or economic vision that transcended those of his peers.
It’s a way of talking about our history without really looking into what we’re comfortable with in this country.
Even allowing for this uncritical fandom, I’m still amused that Fine Gael – the party that claims his legacy and won’t let go – is organizing multiple screenings of the Collins biopic on 19 Omniplex screens next month.
If the ruling party is serious about its own history, let alone that of the nation, revisiting a popcorn swashbuckler might not be the best way to go.
As a movie, it’s a dazzling piece of rollercoaster entertainment, and I’d happily watch it again under those conditions. But it has done our understanding no favors by turning this crucial time into a tragic two-handed.
While casting the brilliant Alan Rickman may have been a cinematic feat – previously and ingloriously hit and miss Die Hard and Prince of Thieves – as Éamon de Valera, all it did was cloud the complex story.
Rickman’s raunchy and self-pitying Dev never stood a chance against Liam Neeson’s Lionheart Collins.
There are several reasons why the fuzzy reality of the time was distilled into this stark binary competition. This film is definitely one of them.
A colossus like Michael Collins deserves more than a hagiographic massage in 2022. But it’s mostly what he’s received over the past week. His shoulders were broad enough to take more.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/michael-collins-deserves-better-than-popcorn-adulation-41930292.html Michael Collins deserves better than popcorn glorification