History is plentiful well from which storytellers have been able to drink from to gain inspiration for their various books, films and television shows.
We’ve had dozens upon dozens of films and books about the “big” moments of history such as the various battles World Wars, the Vietnam War or the more recent War on Terror. However, while I like to hear these stories time and time again, I appreciate it more when storytellers attempt to shed light on the lesser known moments of history.
One such story is that of The Siege of Jadotville a story that has rarely been told and one that’s truth had been long hidden.
In 1961 the newly independent nation of the Congo is gripped by violent political unrest and the democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba has just been assassinated. With the nation being of vital importance in the Cold War struggle between the superpowers, Irish UN peacekeepers are sent to the troubled nation to try and prevent the situation from detraining into a potentially global crisis. Soon after their arrival to the outpost of Jadotville however, the men soon find themselves under siege in an increasingly desperate situation with the Irish defenders finding themselves outgunned and outnumbered with little hope of reinforcements.
Jamie Dornan leads the cast and it’s a great relief to finally see him play a more heroic role for a change, with him making for a fine leading man as Pat Quinlan the commander of the Irish peacekeepers at Jadotville. Dornan manages to convincingly come off as a brave commander and fierce soldier, while also managing to come across as sympathetic when the situation his men find themselves becomes increasingly hopeless.
Dornan plays his part well, and while I do prefer him when he plays darker characters; I do hope he gets the chance to play more heroic and lighter roles.
Mark Strong also stars as Connor Cruise O’Brian, the Irish diplomat who advocates the use of Irish troops as UN peacekeepers but soon finds himself essentially sacrificing them so as to, in his view, prevent a much bigger conflict from erupting.
Strong does a fine job in his performance, but he does come off as the clichéd character of a political bureaucrat devoted to his political ideals but unable to reconcile them with the violent reality of events, not helped by his Irish accent which while fine for the most part does wobble at times and sometimes threatens to devolve into that of a stereotype.
The first half of the film is probably the weakest part of the film, essentially being a build up to the battle to come. While this is a common practice for these kinds of films, after all, it helps to set the stage for events and introduce and develop the characters, this film really doesn’t do much to develop the Irish soldiers with only Dornan’s commander getting any kind of character development and even still it’s mainly to tell us that he has a wife and knows lots about Julius Caesar.
The second half of the film does pick up though as the titular siege begins, with the battle scenes, while not the most original ever committed to film, are well-choreographed and intense. The later stages of the battle are particularly suspenseful as the Irish soldiers find themselves running out of ammunition and having to resort to increasingly creative means of holding the enemy back, with the desperation of their situation.
What the film does do well though is to shed light on a moment in history that I imagine only those well versed in the histories of the Congo, Ireland and UN intervention would really know about. The Irish soldiers who defended Jadotville did have to surrender in the end, mainly because they simply had no means to keep fighting having exhausted all their ammunition and facing attacks from all sides.
Yet instead of being treated as valiant defenders who fought as best they could against overwhelming odds, upon their return to Ireland they were viewed as cowards and dubbed “The Jadotville Jackals”.
Thankfully, albeit rather belatedly, their real status as heroes was eventually recognised by the Irish government in 2005, with the men also being recently awarded a Presidential Unit Citation in 2016.
The Siege of Jadotville is hardly the most original or the greatest film about conflict ever made, and it does have its issues with its pacing and largely underdeveloped characters. Yet, despite these flaws, I did find the film to be an engaging one with fine lead performances and intense, well put together battle sequences.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the film finally gives the men who defended Jadotville a chance to have the real story of what they went through told and in that respect the film is more than a fitting tribute to their bravery against overwhelming odds.
[rating=3] | Graeme Robertson
Drama, Thriller | 15 | Now Available| Netflix UK&Ireland |Dir.Richie Smyth | Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong,Emmanuelle Seigner, Guillaume Canet, Mikael Persbrandt