The revolutionists in both Michael Collins and Bloody Sunday are depicted as being the “underdogs” oppressed by the tyranny and might of the British. A key distinction however, is that whereas in Michael Collins the revolutionists are portrayed as heroes striking back at their oppressors through violent means, in Bloody Sunday, the revolutionists are portrayed as being non-aggressors trying to trigger change through peaceful means. Regardless of method, the end result in both cases ends up being equally catastrophic.
Beginning with Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionists are portrayed as noble and patriotic warriors who are mercied against British imperial forces. This is apparent in the beginning scenes of the movie where Michael Collins is in front of a huge crowd and tries to rally support for the revolution. He says, “Even if they shoot us, or conscript us, we have a weapon more powerful than any in the whole arsenal of the British Empire! That weapon… is our refusal!” (Jordan, Neil, Michael Collins). This scene attempts to justify the Irish revolutionist’s causes. At the same time, it depicts them as mythical warriors, fighting for country and land.
In regards to setting, the peaceful portrayal of Michael Collins’ country-side setting of West Cork, serves as a stark contrast to the more chaotic and strife ridden setting of Dublin. Most of the shots in the streets are taken at night and are thus, very dim. With the exception of torches carefully placed to provide subtle illumination nonetheless, it is very difficult to see the faces of the characters. Aside from that the film itself is still a marvel to gaze upon. It possesses lush settings; soft diffuse lighting, beautifully saturated warm colours coupled with fluid camera work. In regards to camera techniques, the movie utilizes long shot techniques effectively in scenes where Collins is engaged in conflict or rallying support.
The film attempts to portray Collins in a more humane light flawed yet at the same time, sympathetic. He is aware that when it comes to causing mayhem he is the ultimate authority but at the same time, he wants peace so badly that he is willing to give up his life for it. Even amid intense scenes of strife and violence the film portrays Collins as a tormented individual forced to resort to violence. This is apparent in the scene where he tells Harry, “I want peace so bad that I could die for it… I do not like to kill, I’d rather do it last and not first”. (Michael Collins). Even though the argument could be made that Collins engaged in guerrilla tactics and also contributed towards the partition of Ireland, the film attempts to justify that his ultimate goal still was for Ireland to break free from the shackles of Britain and attain freedom. Thus, the film is convincing in depicting both the viciousness and sensitivity of Collins’ nature, turning him into the central figure of an almost-Shakespearean tragedy.
Moving forward, in Bloody Sunday there is no mythical or romanticized elements like the ones we encountered in Michael Collins. The ominous clouds, lack of sunshine, muddy fields, all represent a break from the past and contribute to a more modern setting. The film details events over a 24 hour period, preceding and following the massacre, thus gives the illusion it is being shot in “real” time as opposed to “reel” time, which is also often distorted (Helfield, Gillian. Irish Revolutionists. Jan 30, 2010). Furthermore, it deploys a cinema verite style in its use of handheld camera, available natural lighting and a lack of musical score and sound effects. This makes it seem like the camera happened to be there when the tragedy occurred, and following the action as it happens.
In the scene especially when the protestors are attacked by the British paramilitary, it seemed as if I was watching a live CNN news report. Thus, reportage techniques are also implemented to give us a sense of factual authenticity and a heightened realistic effect. This is done effectively in the opening scenes where Cooper and the civil rights movement along with the British are giving their press conferences. It seems as if the camera is acting as a news reporter documenting the answers of both sides, making it seem like it is live and happening at that moment. In regards to music, Cooper and his protestors sing “we shall overcome” before beginning their march. This perhaps is done intentionally to portray their oppressive state and how they will overcome their oppression through peaceful means.
Overall, the film does well in its attempt to portray the British paramilitary as being exterminators in their attack of the marchers. At the same time, we do see a group of young boys who leave the march looking for a fight. They provoke the soldiers before eventually leading them to the peaceful protestors. Still, these acts pale in comparison to the genuine lust for violence manifest amongst the British soldiers who disobey orders and open fire on the unarmed civilians and at the same time, brag over their exploits. The revolutionist leading the march, Ivan Cooper played by James Nesbitt, is portrayed as a sort of Martin Luther King type figure seeking to advance civil interests through peaceful means.
To his chagrin, he is met with force and this is particularly where the film is convincing in its justifications for explaining the causes of both sides. Near the end we see army officials being questioned about the incident with all of their statements being false but still taken as being authentic. Moreover they are lauded as heroes and none of them are reprimanded. Thus, the film Bloody Sunday, does a remarkable job in justifying the revolutionists as being peaceful and victims in this case. In the case of the British however, the film seemingly attempts to justify their actions as being driven by a historical hatred and oppression of what it deems as an inferior colony.