Friday, September 7, 2012

The IRA on Film and Television: A History by Mark Connelly (Book Spotlight)

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has for decades pursued the goal of unifying its homeland into a single sovereign nation, ending British rule in Northern Ireland. Over the years, the IRA has been dramatized in motion pictures directed by John Ford (The Informer), Carol Reed (Odd Man Out), David Lean (Ryan’s Daughter), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins), and many others. International film stars as Liam Neeson, Brad Pitt, James Mason, Robert Mitchum, James Cagney, Richard Gere, and Anthony Hopkins have portrayed IRA members as heroic patriots, psychotic terrorists and tormented rebels.

This illustrated history analyzes celluloid depictions of the IRA from the 1916 Easter Rising to the peace process of the 1990s. Topics include America’s role in creating both the IRA and its cinematic image, the organization’s brief association with the Nazis, and critical reception of IRA films in Ireland, Britain and the United States.

273 pages
Publisher: McFarland (April 25, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786447362
ISBN-13: 978-0786447367
Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 6.9 x 0.8 inches
Available to purchase at: Amazon/ Amazon Kindle/ B&N
For more about the book & author go here:




The Irish Republican Army has appeared in over eighty motion pictures, granting it an unprecedented and ironic cinematic presence. A secret “outlawed” organization for most of its history, the IRA has rarely consisted of more than a few hundred active members. Like Basque separatists in Spain, it is involved in a protracted internecine struggle with few global ramifications. The IRAis dedicated to ending British rule in a corner of a neutral island with a population equivalent to that of West Virginia, a heavily subsidized province Britain has repeatedly stated that it has no selfish, strategic, or economic interest in retaining. An IRA victory would not create a haven for international terrorists, destabilize NATO, disrupt world markets, or endanger British security. The parochial dispute between militant Irish Republicans who want a single unified Irish state and the Unionists who wish Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom claimed three thousand lives in thirty years, a devastating number for a small community, but far less significant than the loss of life in Kosovo in a single year. Other revolutionary organizations have inflicted more harm, espouse more ominous ideologies, and pose greater threats to international stability. Yet none of these militant forces has captivated moviemakers like the Irish Republican Army.

The IRA commands a greater screen presence than the PLO, ETA, or the FLN because it is Irish. It is not the nature, size, or significance of the organization, or the value of the land in dispute, but the people it involves that attracts attention. As James MacKillop notes, as a small nation, Ireland is uniquely connected to the outside world because of the English language and its extensive diaspora.1 Unlike a regional conflict in Spain or Serbia, the Irish Troubles reverberate around the world. A film about theIRA can easily star Irish, American, and British actors speaking their native language and draw audiences in London, New York, Toronto, and Melbourne. A nation of only 4.4 million, the Irish Republic has developed a prolific film industry whose producers can rely on overseas markets filmmakers in Hungary or Greece cannot.2

The IRA has been a subject explored by major directors from three countries, including John Ford, John Frankenheimer, Carol Reed, David Lean, Neil Jordan, and Jim Sheridan. IRA characters have been portrayed by international stars such as Victor McLaglen, James Cagney, Anthony Hopkins, James Mason, and Brad Pitt. Films about the Irish Republican Army range from realistic docudramas like Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday (Hell’s Kitchen Films, 2002), shot with handheld cameras and natural lighting to create the sensation of watching 1972 newsreel footage, to Joseph Merhi’s action farce Riot (PM Entertainment Group, 1999) in which a British superhero battles IRA bikers in the streets of Los Angeles during a race riot.

Whether portrayed as a heroic patriot, ruthless terrorist, corrupt gangster, or troubled outcast, the Irish rebel has emerged as a universally recognized cinematic archetype.

This book takes a “history vs. Hollywood” approach to the IRA film, tracing, as objectively as possible, the record of the IRA from its emergence during the Easter Rising of 1916 through the peace process of the 1990s, then examining its depictions on film.

The introduction presents an overview of Irish history, focusing on the eight-hundred-year pattern of invasions and rebellions often referenced in IRA films. Chapter 1 examines the role the IRA played during the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War that followed. Chapter 2 reviews film portrayals of Michael Collins, the charismatic revolutionary who founded the IRA and later fought against former comrades who rejected the treaty with Britain he championed.

Chapter 3 details the IRA’s fleeting connections with German intelligence during the Second World War. Though IRA interactions with the Nazis involved small sums of money and the negligible use of arms, filmmakers have found it a compelling sidebar to World War II, creating an onscreen Irish Fifth Column which never existed in reality.

Chapter 4 chronicles the Troubles that ignited in 1969 and led to the reemergence of the IRA both in the streets of Belfast and onfilm. It was during this time that Ireland began releasing movies about the IRA, offering more genuine and contentious views of the conflict than British and American productions. A Jimmy Cagney movie about the War of Independence made in the 1950s, a period of low-level conflict, generated little controversy. In contrast, Irish films like In the Name of the Father (Hell’s Kitchen Productions, 1992) or Some Mother’s Son (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1996) were derided as inflammatory propaganda by Unionists and their Tory supporters.

Chapter 5 discusses two classic IRA-related films, John Ford’s The Informer (RKO 1935) and Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (Two Cities Films, 1947), both of which deleted political references to satisfy British censors. As in many other IRA films, the partisan conflict was muted to serve as a backdrop for a more personal drama to attain wider appeal.

Chapter 6 describes the major role Americans played in both creating the Irish Republican Army and shaping its cinematic image. Fifty years before the Easter Rising in Dublin, Confederate and Union veterans, many calling themselves members of the Irish Republican Army, invaded Canada with plans to seize Montreal to pressure England into withdrawing from Ireland. For generations, America was the source of arms, money, volunteers, and refuge for Irish Republicans. Irish-American director John Ford, whose cousin was an IRA leader, directed several films featuring IRA characters, even inserting them into his romantic comedy The Quiet Man (Argosy/Republic, 1952). Later Hollywood filmmakers relied on the IRA to provide terrorist villains in the decade between the end of the Cold War and 9/11. Movies like Patriot Games (Paramount, 1992) and Blown Away (MGM, 1994), however, made it clear that the heartless terrorist was an IRA renegade, making the actual organization appear more reasonable in contrast and avoiding offending the IRA’s American supporters.

Later chapters review representative plots and characters, such as the ubiquitous informer. Chapter 10 evaluates films depicting the status of the IRA since the 1998 Good Friday or Belfast Agreement. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes in Heaven (Big FishFilms, 2009) presents the Troubles as a past event, while Damian Chapa’s I.R.A. King of Nothing (BBI Entertainment, 2006) suggests the secret army is merely in hiatus, waiting for a time to strike.

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1 comment:

  1. I never realized how few people are involved in the IRA. Sounds like an interesting read.