Brian Aherne played Dennis Riordan, an Irish rebel leader loosely based on Michael Collins, in the 1936 romantic adventure Beloved Enemy. Brendan Gleeson portrayed Michael Collins in the 1991 docudrama The Treaty.
A variety of directors and actors were attracted to a Collins biopic, including Walter Huston, John Ford, Robert Redford and Kevin Costner. Neil Jordan’s eponymous production Michael Collins was nominated for two Academy Awards and became the second largest grossing motion picture in Irish history, surpassed only by Titanic.
The production of Michael Collins became a national event in Ireland. It was an ambitious big-budget production, shot on eighty-four locations. Newspapers reported on the progress of the movie. Thousands of people agreed to work as unpaid extras. The largest film set ever constructed in Ireland was assembled to recreate the Easter Rising sequence. After filming was completed, the set was opened for public tours, leading some to suggest the Irish government purchase the structure as a national monument. The film was endorsed by former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald and the Minister for Justice Nora Owen, a grand-niece of Michael Collins.
The British response to the anticipated film was guarded and often hostile. Liam Neeson who had played Oscar Schindler, the heroic savior of Jews during the Holocaust, was now cast as a figure many considered a terrorist. English critics condemned the film as “anti-British” and an “I.R.A. film” unseen. Concerned about its reception in the British market, Warner Brothers softened its advertising. An early movie poster depicting Liam Neeson holding a rifle in front of an Irish tricolor was replaced with the image of Michael Collins giving an energetic but unarmed speech.