Arts

Jamie Dornan has the Steve McQueen factor

Veteran music video director Richie Smyth's feature debut is the gripping Netflix war movie The Siege of Jadotville, starring Jamie Dornan. The Dublin-born film-maker and regular U2 collaborator told David Roy about bringing true historic Irish heroism to the screen

Jamie Dornan stars in The Siege of Jadotville

ACCLAIMED new war movie The Siege of Jadotville tells the true story of the Irish Army soldiers of A Company 35th Battalion who survived a sustained attack during their UN peacekeeping mission to the civil war-torn Republic of Congo in 1961.

Based on Declan Power's book The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle, it reveals how Commandant Pat Quinlan (portrayed by Jamie Dornan) and his 152 men defended their isolated position for six days against 3,000 battle-hardened mercenaries employed by Belgian mining companies keen to take control of the country's lucrative natural resources (including key nuclear armaments element, uranium) and working in league with Republic of Katanga coup leader, Moise Tshombe.

Despite the Irish having no previous combat experience, the tactically astute Quinlan kept them alive and fighting until the ammo ran out and they were finally forced to surrender.

A Company were duly imprisoned and sentenced to death before eventually being sent back to Ireland.

Regarded as an embarrassing 'blip' in the UN strategy propagated by 'man on the ground' in Africa, Conor Cruise O'Brien (played by Mark Strong in the film), the Irish soldiers received no official recognition for their bravery.

The details were quietly swept under the rug by officials and the stigma of the cowardly 'Jadotville Jacks' endured for over 40 years – but now the record has been set straight for all the world to see by Richie Smyth's compelling dramatisation, written by Kevin Brodbin.

Having cut his teeth on music videos for the likes of The Verve and U2 (he has been a regular visual collaborator since their Achtung Baby LP in 1991) and in TV advertising (he directed Guinness’s memorable ‘dancing man’ ad in the 90s), Dublin-born Smyth delivers the action-packed battle sequences with aplomb while deftly outlining the top-level strategic errors which caused the titular siege and its controversial fallout.

The Siege of Jadotville is one of the first Netflix-produced films to receive a cinematic release. The explosive battle scenes really played well on the big screen – was it important to you as a film-maker that it had the chance to be seen in cinemas?

To be honest, Netflix really had to be convinced to release it in the cinema. Their main format is obviously streaming, but we had our fingers crossed – and when they agreed to it, I was so happy.

We put so much work into everything, including things like the score and the sound mix, so it was fantastic that audiences got the chance to experience it in cinemas.

You were very passionate about bringing the true story of Commandant Pat Quinlan and his men to the screen. How does it feel to finally have it out there?

It's seven years since I discovered the story and the last two and half of those have been all-out production and making it.

You sort of come out the end of that in a little bit of a daze, but the feedback I've been getting has been really positive.

Was it a hard film to make?

Well, I've been directing for 15 odd years so I'm used to working with large budgets and crews, travelling to locations and whatnot. But what really took some getting used to was the slower pace of the feature film, where you have to keep working for two or three months rather than two or three days.

To get into that groove was something new I had to deal with, and also needing to collaborate more.

But because it was such an important story, it was like having a gift given to me. Any time I felt like throwing my toys out of the pram, I would just say to myself, "no, this story is more important than you or anybody in the production".

It wasn't like I was just making a horror movie or an action thing, I couldn't jeopardise one frame of it not being 100 per cent.

So that gave me this wonderful way of policing the whole thing: there could be no egos, no tantrums – everybody had to do the best thing for the movie at all times.

How much military training did the actors undergo, and did you 'join up' yourself?

We had a boot camp set up right beside where we were shooting, so they were in military drills from 4.30am every day. My attitude was, I wouldn't ask any of them to do anything I wouldn't do myself.

I had all the plans to get down and dirty – I even had a merc [mercenary] outfit loaded with blood squibs for me to get shot during the battle sequence – but the truth of it was that, because of the scale of the film, as the director I just didn't have the time.

I was too busy looking after every department snapping at my heels.

How important was the casting of Jamie Dornan to the film's success?

Jamie was just perfect for Quinlan. Because it was a true story, I really wanted someone who was still a relative unknown.

Movie stars can become such caricatures of themselves – like if, we'd cast Liam Neeson, all you'd see is "Liam Neeson doing blah blah blah" – but Jamie is just about to become a big movie star. It was perfect timing.

He has a coolness to him. I'm a big fan of Steve McQueen and Jamie has that Steve McQueen factor. Even when he's not saying anything, you're wondering what's going on in his head.

That's kind of brilliant – and you either have it or you don't.

:: The Siege of Jadotville is available on Netflix now.

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