Michael Collins (1996)


Michael Collins is a 1996 biographical period drama film written and directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary who died in the Irish Civil War.

Neil Jordan’s historical biopic of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, the man who led a guerrilla war against the UK, helped negotiate the creation of the Irish Free State, and led the National Army during the Irish Civil War.


The film opens in medias res in 1922 immediately after Michael Collins’ death, as Joe O’Reilly, a long-time comrade of Collins, attempts to console a mourning Kitty Kiernan.

The story shifts back to the closing years of Britain’s rule over Ireland from its base in Dublin Castle, when Irish Republicans fight for Irish independence against Britain and its military and police forces. At the end of the Easter Rising in 1916, Collins, Harry Boland, Éamon de Valera, and other besieged Irish rebels at the Dublin GPO surrender to the British Army. As the Dublin Metropolitan Police’s G Division (counter-insurgency squad) identifies leaders of the uprising, Collins tells Boland that next time, “We won’t play by their rules, Harry. We’ll invent our own.” Multiple leaders involved in the fighting (Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke and James Connolly depicted) die by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol, but de Valera, an American citizen, is imprisoned, as are Collins, Boland, and the others.

Following overwhelming victory in the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin establishes a breakaway government and unilaterally declares Irish independence, signalling the start of the Irish War of Independence. De Valera is elected President of the First Dáil, and Collins is appointed Director of Intelligence for the nascent IRA, training and arming the IRA by raiding RIC barracks. In May 1918, at a local by-election rally speech campaigning for Joseph McGuinness, Collins is injured when the RIC break up the rally. While recovering on a friend’s farm, Collins and Boland meet Kitty, who begins a romance with Boland. Several weeks later, Ned Broy, a sympathetic G Division inspector who has been observing Collins and Boland, tips Collins off that the Castle plans 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. Only Collins and Boland escape arrest and imprisonment, and there are no protests.

Left in command, Collins seeks help from Broy to gather information on Castle spies and informers. After issuing a statement that all collaboration with the British will be punished by death, Collins initiates a campaign of assassinations on agents and collaborators using recruits from the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Meanwhile, de Valera breaks out of Lincoln Gaol in England with the help of Collins and Boland. To Collins’ reluctance, de Valera plans to travel to the United States to seek recognition from Woodrow Wilson and orders Boland to accompany him. Before they depart, Collins suggests to Boland his belief that de Valera fears being overshadowed by leaving them alone together.

As the War of Independence intensifies, the British strengthen their military presence and assign Soames, a hardened SIS agent, to lead a new counter-intelligence team tasked to combat the IRA. Heeding Broy’s warning of the new threat, Collins deploys a hit squad that simultaneously assassinates Soames and agents under his command. In retaliation, the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries fire at an unarmed crowd at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park, killing 14 and wounding 60. While in hiding, Collins and Kitty bond intimately. Collins also learns that Broy was tortured and killed after he was caught by Soames frantically destroying Castle documents.

De Valera and Boland return from America empty-handed. Seeking improved leverage in peace talks with the British and citing Collins’ guerrilla tactics as detrimental to the image of the independence movement, de Valera decrees that the IRA must act more like a regular army by launching a formal military attack on The Custom House, the centre of the British administration in Ireland. Collins protests that fighting conventionally will allow the British to win, but the Cabinet votes to support de Valera. 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, but in private, he tells Boland that the IRA will be lucky to hold out for another week. To his surprise, however, the British soon call for a ceasefire.

De Valera orders Collins to go to London to participate in negotiations with the British on the future of Ireland, despite Collins’s objections that he is not a diplomat. The Anglo-Irish Treaty is subsequently signed in December 1921, averting an unwinnable war with Britain and granting Ireland the freedom to achieve the Republic in time, albeit with the state becoming a British dominion in the interim and at the expense of six of the nine Ulster counties, dividing the island between the British north and Irish south. De Valera, who sought unconditional independence, erupts upon learning that the terms have been published without his agreement. Following a tense debate at the Second Dáil, the Treaty is approved 64–57, prompting de Valera and his supporters (including Boland) to resign in protest. As events unfold, Kitty professes her rejection of Boland, and Collins successfully proposes to Kitty. Relations between Collins and Boland deteriorate.

As Ireland begins its transition into a Free State, a people’s vote on the Treaty follows the Dáil vote, with Collins and de Valera campaigning to sway people in their respective directions. Despite violence from anti-Treaty Republicans, the Treaty is backed by popular vote, a result that de Valera and his supporters continue to reject. In June 1922, the anti-Treaty IRA seize the Four Courts in Dublin. Ordered by Arthur Griffith’s Cabinet to retake the Four Courts, Collins (now Chief of Staff of the National Army) is appalled at having to fight former comrades, but obliges when Griffith warns him that if the National Army will not deal with the IRA, the British Army will. In the subsequent Battle of Dublin, the IRA is driven from the city. Despite Collins’ attempts to capture him, Boland is shot by a sentry while trying to swim the Liffey.

Devastated by Boland’s death, Collins desires to meet de Valera. Learning that de Valera is hiding out in West Cork, Collins’ native county, he embarks on a trip there, accompanied by Joe O’Reilly. At a local pub, Collins’ reaches out to de Valera’s intermediary, seeking peace talks and passing the word of Boland’s fate. Unable to extract a response from de Valera, who is equally distraught at Boland’s death, the intermediary misdirects Collins into a trap, with the deception that de Valera will meet him in the village of Béal na Bláth. On route, Collins’ convoy is ambushed by IRA men led by the intermediary, and Collins is fatally shot. Kitty is informed of Collins’ death just after trying on a wedding gown.

Completing his story, O’Reilly tells Kitty that Collins would not want her to mourn as long as she has.


  • Liam Neeson as Michael Collins.
  • Aidan Quinn as Harry Boland.
  • Stephen Rea as Ned Broy.
  • Alan Rickman as Éamon de Valera.
  • Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan.
  • Ian Hart as Joe O’Reilly.
  • Brendan Gleeson as Liam Tobin.
  • Seán McGinley as Smith.
  • Gerard McSorley as Cathal Brugha.
  • Owen O’Neill as Rory O’Connor.
  • Charles Dance as Soames, the British SIS officer who commands the Cairo Gang.
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Collins’s Assassin.
  • Ian McElhinney as Belfast Detective.
  • Stuart Graham as Tom Cullen.
  • Gary Lydon as Squad Youth.


  • It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Neil Jordan.
  • Producer(s): Stephen Woolley.
  • Writer(s): Neil Jordan.
  • Music: Elliot Goldenthal.
  • Cinematography: Chris Menges.
  • Editor(s): J. Patrick Duffner and Tony Lawson.
  • Production: The Geffen Film Company and Warner Bros.
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros.
  • Release Date: 28 August 1996 (Venice International Film Festival) and 11 October 1996 (general release).
  • Running time: 133 minutes.
  • Country: UK, US, and Ireland.
  • Language: English.

YouTube Link

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