STARRING: Jamie Dornan, Mark Strong, Mikael Persbrandt, Danny Sapani, Jason O’Mara, Michael McElhatton and Guillaume Canet
Irish Commandant Pat Quinlan leads a stand off with troops against French and Belgian Mercenaries in the Congo during in the early 1960s.
The Siege of Jadotville takes us back to 1961, where we follow ‘A’ Company 35th Battalion of the Irish Army ONUC contingent, sent out by the UN to Katanga in the Congo to protect the inhabitants of the mining town of Jadotville in the beginning of the Congo Crisis. While UN advisor Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien launches a military operation known as Operation Morthor, Commandant Pat Quinlan must deal with an attack at the Jadotville compound by an army of mercenaries and Katangese forces.
The Siege of Jadotville is a film based on the novel by Declan Power’s The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle, which also marks the directorial feature debut from Richie Smyth in this Parallel Films and Netflix collaboration.
With its rather small budget (still haven’t seen it revealed), largely filled with a cast of unknowns outside of Jamie Dornan, Jason O’Mara and Mark Strong, Siege of Jadotville is a solid war film telling the story of Irish soldiers under siege by French and Belgian mercenaries and Katangese forces. The battle sequences are well structured and edited together, particularly the scene involving a Fouga Magister jet attacking the compound. Jamie Dornan gives a solid lead performance here and arguably the best of his career thus far as Commandant Pat Quinlan, an untested commander who becomes desperate to keep his men alive and increasingly frustrated by the lack of support meant to be provided by those above him. A particular scene he shares with Guillaume Canet’s French mercenary Rene Faulques in a local bar is one of the films standout moments, from Faulques mocking manner of the Irish Army’s lack of combat history, leading to Quinlan’s remark about the French surrendering within days to the German’s during World War II. Canet is solid as the mercenary, with Jason O’Mara bringing a charismatic presence compared to Dornan’s quiet demeanour as Sergeant Jack Prendergast.
While Dornan’s leading performance is solid for this kind of film, the accent from time to time pulled me out of the film as it fizzles in and out during the first act particularly. While the sequences of the battles are well executed, it doesn’t particularly try to out do or add anything new to what you would’ve seen before in previous war films and the majority of the characters are under-developed and honestly it’s hard to remember even the majority of the names of the characters that got a good bit of screen time. While the siege moments hit, unfortunately the weakest parts of the film come in the scenes involving Mark Strong’s portrayal of O’Brien and Michael McElhatton’s portrayal of General McEntee. Their scenes don’t have the same urgency and intensity when it comes to receiving exchanges from Quinlan about the siege and they’re both written as pretty one-note for the actors to any real performance to shine through. While the film is about the siege, a part of me really hoped the film would dig deep into the aftermath of how the soldiers were treated and seen as cowards by their own Government, though unfortunately we had to deal with text scroll to explain that to us in the films credits.
The Siege of Jadotville is a solid debut from Richie Smyth, thankfully portraying the Irish Defence Forces as well disciplined and brave soldiers rather than the stereotypical version of Irish characters that we’ve seen on the big screen since life began. It might go unnoticed from casual film viewers this year but it’s a film that honours the men of A Company that didn’t get the credit they deserved until a number of decades later. 7/10