A Film Review by Hugh Vaughan
The Siege of Jadotville, directed by Richie Smith and starring Jamie Dornan. Action, Drama, Thriller, 2016.
Jamie Dornan plays Commandant Pat Quinlan in The Siege at Jadotville based on Declan Power’s book, The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle (2005). Over six days, 150 United Nation peacekeepers, inexperienced Irish troops – many in their teens – resisted attacks by around 3,500 rebels led by battle-hardened mercenaries. ‘A lot of people have likened it to The Alamo or to Rorke’s Drift,’ Leo Quinlan, the late commandant’s son, comments. ‘The difference is the Irish all came home alive.
‘ They were sent to the Congo on a peacekeeping mandate from the United Nations, overseen by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and Conor Cruise O’Brien, an Irish Head of Mission at the UN.
In the Netflix production, Commandant Pat Quinlan is in charge of the battalion, stationed near Jadotville in Katanga, during September 1961. While in Jadotville, Quinlan meets French mercenary Rene Paulques who is defending mining interests. He also talks to a Belgian colonist, Madam LaFongagne, who tells him that the mining companies had been unhappy with Lumumba, the Congolese prime minister, who had been assassinated and are determined to defend their interests. Elsewhere, UN forces launched an attack against the Kataganese. Kataganese forces, in conjunction with mercenaries under Paulques, attack the Irish at Jadotville, which was not easily defended and they were outnumbered 20 to 1.
The Irish were lightly armed with limited provisions and totally unprepared with what was in front of them. Despite this, they inflicted heavy causalities on the attacking force and suffered only minor injuries themselves. After running out of supplies and ammunition, they surrendered. Held in captivity for a month, where the local women attacked them as they had mostly supported the rebels, many of the Irish captives were beaten and Quinlan suffered two mock executions. On returning to Ireland their heroic stance was shunned by the government. Others fought to gain the recognition of their heroic deeds. Conor Cruise O’Brien’s indifference to their plight was also questioned, his explanation was thought to be self-serving.
Dornan said the real veterans
didn’t get the recognition they deserved. In fact, the opposite. They got that term Jadotville Jacks. They have had to live with that and they appreciate any light that can be shone on their heroics.
Jamie Dornan is a Northern Irish actor, model and musician has recently released 50 Shades Darker, a romantic tale with erotic sex scenes, variously been described as bland, vanilla and threadbare in the Independent, and a soapy narrative, stiff dialogue, absent chemistry, absurd plot devices and vulgar wealth-porn in the Irish Independent. It is not on my list to see. This is the second film based on a best-selling book Fifty Shades of Grey. Incidentally, I came across the book, about 6 of them in mint condition in a staff kitchen in a university in the eastern suburbs in Melbourne. I assumed they were for taking so I took one to see what the fuss was all about and after reading a few pages, I started to skim read (I know what you are thinking!) and it left me with no impact whatsoever.
Dornan did leave an impact on me in The Fall. His plain and ordinary life as husband, father and bereavement counsellor, all caring roles is transformed into grisly brutal terror as he stalks the streets and back lanes of Belfast prying on women in their homes. The dull character becomes alive and electric, as he creeps around the unsuspecting target’s home in his murderous and perverted sexual quest. His nemesis is a female English cop, equally cold and calculating, played by Gillian Anderson.
The Northern Irish film industry is thriving, the well-known Game of Thrones – a big economical driver – has many Irish actors and filmed along the Antrim coastline and the famous Dark Hedges, near Ballymoney. Beech trees, that I have driven under many times. It is a fantastical drama – ‘The Sopranos of Middle-earth’ featuring Art Parkinson from Donegal as a young Stark. A surprisingly mature actor for all his 15 years and a fluent Irish speaker, whose film won the best animation at the BAFTAs. The film industry of Ireland is another discussion for another day but as Anna Zaluczkowska discusses in her research on the topic,
Martin McLoone in his book Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland (2008) writing about Ireland in general rather than Northern Ireland in particular very clearly points out that Irish emigration to England and America has resulted in a very special interplay between the cultures and this is reflected in the film making that has resulted. ‘The Ireland of the new millennium (he suggests) is caught between its nationalist past, its European future and its American imagination.
I found The Siege at Jadotville well-crafted and Dornan’s performance is solid, a family man showing concern for his troops and utilising all his resources in difficult circumstances seemed to reflect his study of military strategy. That study seemed to bear fruit, by defending his fellow Irishmen from overwhelming forces. The combat action reminded me of the films of my youth as did the dialogue. The ending was rushed, going home, after their captivity and back to their families, and quietly ignored.
I enjoyed the naivety of an early scene where the boys slept outside on the roof enjoying the warm starlit night, thinking their expedition would be a pleasant sojourn in the heat, wise-craicing with each other.
The Irish Times, in their review comments:
The Siege of Jadotville (deliberately or not) sets up O’Brien as a complement to Comdt Pat Quinlan. While the UN man protects his back, the leader of the company, played by a suave Jamie Dornan, begins planning for an assault. His leadership and strategic nous helped avoid a single Irish death. We are left in no doubt as to who the hero of the piece is.
Dornan unsurprisingly looks great weaving his way around the bullets and barking orders with that sadist’s allure he brings to both Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey and Paul Spector in The Fall.
Johnny McAnaney (my wife’s uncle) was one of those soldiers at the siege. He was based in Mullingar and his daughter Kathleen outlines her feelings:
It was heart wrenching and stomach churning. It grew with me. Now, I have the greatest respect for the Army lads on the ground. It was those upstairs in the top brass that I had the problem with. It was awful to grow up as a daughter thinking that my father was treated like that. He was a very proud man. He walked upright with his shoulders back. We still have the morals he gave us to this day.
Hopefully this film and the late recognition by the Irish Government of a ‘unit citation’ will right this historical wrong and bring some solace to Kathleen and the other families of the brave Irish men at Jadotville.
This YouTube video gives an an insight into contemporary coverage.
Hugh Vaughan was born in Strabane, and raised in Derry, Northern Ireland, and currently lives in Melbourne, lecturing in Information Systems. He has written two books: A Bump on the Road and Cillefoyle Park, both creative memoirs, focusing on growing up during The Troubles in the North West of Ireland.