Director: Richie Smyth Starring: Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong, Jason O’Mara Runtime: 108 minutes
Netflix has recently added Irish gem The Siege of Jadotville to its collection. The film premiered at Galway Film Fleadh in September with a ceremony beforehand announcing that the ‘Jadotville Jacks’ were being honoured with a unit citation. Siege is a military-film with heart and humour, check it out next time you can’t find anything worthwhile on Netflix.
If you studied Leaving Cert History, you’re probably familiar with the secession of Katanga from the Congo in 1960 which lasted from until 1963. The gist is that the Congo became independent from Belgium in 1960. Soon afterwards Katanga, a region rich in copper, gold and most importantly uranium (which is used to make napalm, as well as for hardening armour), decided to secede from the Congo. However, you probably haven’t heard the buried story of 150 Irish men who managed to survive six days under siege by nearly 3500 rebels led by mercenaries. They didn’t lose a single man. The story of these brave men has been stunningly captured by debut director Richie Smyth.
Jamie Dornan stars as Commander Patrick Quinlan, portrayed as an academic untested by battle. In fact, his entire battalion comprises of “War Virgins”. The assumption by everybody seems to be that the men won’t actually see action. But when Operation Morthor (which means smash) led to UN forces getting carried away and slaughtering unarmed men and women at Katanga radio station, Katangan forces retaliated by attacking the poorly placed Irish company. A’ Company were caught quite off guard, having only heard about Operation Morthor after it went ahead. The men were in fact at church when Katangan rebels launched their attack. Very Irish!
The lads manage to hold their own thanks to the trenches strategically placed by Quinlan which allowed them visibility but made them unusually difficult to shoot at. This marks the beginning of a six-day siege which shakes the Company to its core. The Siege of Jadotville is a great example of national cinema in that it reflects some genuine aspects of Irishness, to great comedic effect. We first meet the Company in an Irish bar straight out of Cameron’s Titanic where one of them says “You lads on the Congo mission?”. When the lads are shipping off, a classic ‘Irish Mammy’ crying and fussing over her son is juxtaposed with an Irish Father simply saying “Well your Mother will miss you”. His son tells him that he is terrified he’s going to die, and his only response is “Ah ya won’t”. This is unfortunately characteristic of repressive Irish masculinity in the 60s.
Jamie Dornan comes out with fantastic one-liners, but still conveys genuine fear and concern for his boys. His best moments range from the hilarious; “These [snakes] aren’t poisonous! Did ya not read the info packs?! to gallows humour, asking how he should keep fighting; “With what, a firm tone?” Of being shot, he quips “I wouldn’t recommend it”. This makes Quinlan a rounded and compelling protagonist a lá John McClane in Die Hard. The film portrays Conor Cruise ‘The Cruiser’ O’Brien as the villain of the piece; he’s the UN’s man-on-the-ground who seems unsympathetic to the Irish battalion’s precarious situation. All we’ll say is in real life O’Brien went into Irish politics, make of that what you will.
Quinlan proves to be a master tactician, it’s genuinely impressive that A’ Company held out so long with no loss of life and very scarce resources. Once they’ve “used every bullet twice” Quinlan makes the wise decision to surrender. This keeps the company alive, exacerbating the PR disaster that Operation Morthor already was and leading the UN to label the men cowards – earning them the nickname Jadotville Jacks. In 2005, the men were finally honoured as heroes by the Irish government. They still have yet to receive any medals of honour or bravery though.
Director Richie Smyth has produced an impressively stylish debut. His experience directing music videos for U2, The Verve, Bon Jovi, Mellisa Ethridge, and The Coors really shines through in this confident film. There are several instances in which he pulls off high-contrast silhouette shots to stunning effect. If you want an engaging war film with a sense of humour that has more to say than “Look, explosions!” then this is your horse.
It does bear noting that there are only two women in this film, one being Quinlan’s wife and the other an unfriendly local in Katanga.(4 / 5)