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Michael Collins Press Conference

Neil Jordan, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea were on the platform at the press conference in Cork on the day of the Irish premier of the controversial, eagerly awaited and much debated film biography, Michael Collins. Actually, the movie got its first airing simultaneously in Cork and Dublin, and the above mentioned personages’ inability to bilocate meant that the Dublin show got off to a late start, because of a delayed flight.
When asked how well he thought he had captured the character of Collins, Neeson told us that it was a challenge that had accrued over the past 12 years.
“Given the complexity of the man, I’d say I was about 80% successful,” he said.
“90%,” interjected Quinn.




Neeson devoted a lot of time to getting Collins’ west Cork accent down to a tee, but then realised that it would be incomprehensible outside Ireland, and so cut it back and modified it to a more mid-Atlantic intonation. He recounted an anecdote about how, during filming, when he had finished delivering one of Collins’ public addresses, a crew member shouted up at him, “Ah Liam, would you ever go back to Ballymena.”
Jordan commented that this was: “ unusual film for me to make, in that it’s a realistic movie. Most of my work concerns dark woods, dreams, nightmares.” The only other figure of the time with a comparable interest for Jordan is Roger
When probed about being approached by Sinead McCoole, biographer of Hazel Lavery, with material about Collins’ involvement with her subject, and her role as a broker between Churchill and Collins in the Treaty negotiations, Jordan denied ever having met McCoole. But he went on to say that with a £28 million budget from Warner Brothers, he couldn’t afford to take the movie to London, and had to cut that part of the screenplay. Not only was Lavery thus excluded, but Birkenhead, Churchill and Lloyd George as well. Neeson put in that he felt one of Jordan’s achievements was to “prune to its essence” Collins’ story.
“It was a choice between building the set of the GPO and O’Connell Street, or Lady Lavery,” continued Jordan.
Having read McCoole’s book recently, he found he didn’t like Lady Lavery very much
“I thought she was very histrionic, and over keen to be in the public eye. I thought the way she went around showing people her love letters from Kevin O’Higgins didn’t reflect very well on her, and was very insensitive to his family.”
Asked if he was presenting a sanitised version of Collins, he replied, “Collins has a reputation as a womaniser, but while he was tremendously attractive to women, there’s no hard evidence for any of these sexual relationships. The Collins/Kitty Kiernan letters show the kind of pre-marital relationship our grandparents probably had, when there was a lot less knowingness about sexuality than there is today.” For this reason, overly explicit scenes would have been inappropriate.
How does he feel about Collins now?
“The more time I’ve spent with this character, the more I’ve come to admire him. He went from being a militarist to a democrat to a politician. He had a tremendous nobility.”
Pressed as to whether his decision to write a reply to Eoghan Harris’ criticisms of him and his movie in The Irish Times was not petty, Jordan defended himself by saying,
“I was sick of being criticised by this individual whom I’ve never even met, so I responded to him.”
Jordan began his article by writing that movies were fiction, not history, but then went on to criticise Harris’ screenplay for its historical inaccuracies, which seems to this writer to play into his critics’ hands.
“Because my film is not a documentary doesn’t mean it’s not factual. It captures the spirit of the times, the emotional resonances. Half of it is about a bunch of guys struggling to achieve something, in this case Irish independence. Half of it is about the aftermath of that achievement, how they dealt with it. I was trying to be as objective as I could be.”
Jordan is back on more familiar turf with his next film, his cinematic interpretation of Pat McCabe’s novel, The Butcher Boy, which includes, among other things, an appearance by Sinead O’Connor as the Virgin Mary. “It’s quite a frightening movie, because you see a young boy going mad from inside his own head,” commented the director. Production finished at the end of last summer, and it should go on general release in the New Year. As for the more naturalistic but perhaps no less macabre film he is currently promoting, let the historians stuff their historical accuracy. This is the movies, and this is a great movie.

First published in 46A













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