TV miniseries review: Rebel Heart (2001), directed by John Strickland
Rebel Heart is a BBC miniseries following a young, upper class Dubliner called Ernie Coyne (James D’Arcy), a volunteer in the Easter Rising, used to carry messages between the different rebel holds around town. He’s not taken seriously because of his posh upbringing, so to the rest of the rebels he is seen as someone who’s just tagging along because it seems cool, and in a pinch he’s going to run straight home to his mammy.
As it happens, his strict father wants nothing to do with the politics of the day, but Ernie is truly dedicated and proves himself an able rebel. As the Easter Rising draws to a close, we follow him through the following few years, through the War of Independence, and how he works as a messenger for Michael Collins (Brendan Coyle), and how he falls in love with Belfast girl Ita Feeney (Paloma Baeza), and so on.
Other actors include Vincent Regan as Tom O’Toole, Frank Laverty as Kelly, and Dawn Bradfield as Ursula Feeney. The first (of four) episode also features Bill Paterson as James Connolly, with Liam Cunningham as Michael Malone and Daragh O’Malley as James Grace holding fort at the Royal College of Surgeons.
A while back, I was looking through Brendan Coyle’s filmography on IMDb, and saw something called Rebel Heart, where he played the part of Michael Collins. “Hang on,” I said to myself, doing a doule-take of the name and the title of the production, “does that mean the Michael Collins? From Irish history?” As it turns out, yes, that’s exactly the person they meant, and my reaction to Brendan Coyle having played him, Irish accent and all, was “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY”.
Well, or not. At least until I learned this BBC miniseries has not been released on DVD, so is nigh on impossible to track down. “Woe is the world, we are never going to be able to see Brendan Coyle as Mick Collins!” was my first thought, and then I googled it. Turns out someone was nice enough to put the whole shebang on YouTube. RESULT! Sadly, this meant that the image quality was very poor, and every ten minutes there was a slight pause as it moved from one video in the playlist to the next, but beggars can’t be choosers. BBC, if you see this, PLEASE put Rebel Heart out on DVD so I can re-watch it in a proper picture quality and gush even more over how much I loved this show!
Because yes, it’s very well done. BBC miniseries tend to be very good, let’s be honest, and this is certainly no exception. It’s a good way of learning about a chapter in Irish history, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the historical characters – Collins in particular – it was also nice to follow someone who hasn’t made the history books. Okay, as far as I know, Ernie Coyne is a made up character, but he’s there as an example of all the other rebels the history books often fail to mention because they keep in the background.
The love story between Ita and Ernie was sweet, if not overly engaging, and it was nice to see Ernie prove himself to the other men (and women), in that he didn’t just pretend to be a fighter, but he actually fought as much as everyone else. Strangely, O’Toole actually says that he’s not fighting for the cause (freedom) as such, while for Ernie, the cause is paramount. And also, O’Toole keeps fighting …
D’Arcy played Ernie very well, and I loved seeing Paterson, Cunningham and especially O’Malley (Sharpe’s sidekick) play a part. Granted, I was in this for the Big Fellow, and I didn’t think Coyle – or his character – got quite enough camera time. Wasn’t Ernie Coyne billed as Collins’s right hand man, more or less? I expected more Collins! Still, what we get is fabulous. Brendan Coyle in a uniform with an Irish accent, as an Irish rebel. Be still my heart. He isn’t much of a Big Fellow, though, because D’Arcy and a number of other actors are actually taller, but, like all the historical figures portrayed in Rebel Heart, bears a surprising likeness to the real man.
(I really ought to get around to reading all my Irish history books. Maybe this might work as an incentive.)
5 out of 5 besieged GPOs.