There is quite a contrast between the attitude to military service in America, and in Ireland. It is not that we don’t support our boys and girls in green, we do. Ireland’s reputation for neutrality and fairness mean they are often asked to help keep the peace in some of the world’s worst trouble spots. Something which is a source of pride to most of us. But there is not the same reverence. And what support there is tends to be for the soldiers & sailors themselves, more so than for the institutions. Perhaps it is a legacy of our colonization, but where there is pomp and circumstance, the Irish instinct is always to poke fun rather than salute.
The real Pat Quinlan
This may be why, even though Ireland’s small but healthy film industry has plenty of dramas, comedies, horrors and musicals, war movies are few and far between. It could be argued that we’ve made more westerns. So, when Netflix announced they were releasing a movie starring Jamie Dornan, based around the real-life experiences of the Irish Army in the Congo in the 60s, I was a little surprised. The experience of the Irish at Jadotville was quite the scandal at the time but had long since faded from the memory of the public. And it’s probably fair to say, most of those who knew about it, had never heard the real story.
Spoiler free synopsisThe Congo, 1961. Due to escalating tensions in the area, the UN sends in a company of Irish peacekeepers into the province of Katanga. They are to hold the town of Jadotville at all costs. The local warlord recruits 1,000 French mercenaries, ostensibly to protect the mines in the area. However, after the UN goes on the offensive, the mercenaries are unleashed on the isolated Irish soldiers. The UN hierarchy in the region, led by Irishman Conor Cruise O Brien seem unable or unwilling to send reinforcements to help the beleaguered Irish company dug in at Jadotville
You always know a movie has worked when you find yourself going straight to Wikipedia to learn more about the people and events. I vaguely remembered Conor Cruise O’ Brien as a politician and social commentator, but before I had interest in such things, so had no idea of the part he played in this, or how he may have shaped Irish foreign policy.
Mark Strong is an interesting choice for this role. He is always a fine addition to any movie, but I wasn’t sure about the accent. I thought it jarred slightly. However, O’ Brien’s obituary notes how his private school education had given him an accent, and reports that this made him an outlier compared to his peers in Ireland. Maybe it one of those cases when the actor gets it too right.
More surprising to me was the performance of Jamie Dornan, who is at his best. Admittedly as the only other things I saw him star in were Fifty Shades, Robin Hood and Trolls World Tour, so that is quite a low bar. Still, I thought he was compelling as the thoughtful, noble Commandant Pat Quinlan. He is an expert in military strategy but has very little combat experience, which leads some of his own men to doubt him, and his opponents to underestimate him. Jason O’Meara and the rest of the Irish cast including the real Patrick Quinlan’s nephew, Conor ,make a likable band of brothers. Guillaume Canet enjoys himself as Rene Faulques, the legendary mercenary.
It is hard to discuss much more without verging into spoiler territory, but Director Richie Smyth, and screenwriter Kevin Brodbin do an excellent job of shining a light on this corner of Irish military history. And if the overall story of lions led by donkeys seems a little bit of a movie cliché, I think a quick chat with soldiers anywhere would assure you t’was ever so.
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