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New Release Review (VOD) - THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE

The true story of how a small group of Irish soldiers held out against a seemingly insurmountable attack during the 1961 Congo conflict.






Review by Ruairi Kavanagh (@ruairikav)

Directed by: Richie Smyth

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Jason O'Mara, Mark Strong, Emmanuelle Seigner, Guillaume Canet, Mikael Persbrandt



As an Irishman, it's great to see a movie where an Irish soldier is portrayed not as a dead-eyed killer, a drunk or the comic relief element of another army, but as an extremely competent, well disciplined and incredibly brave soldier of the Irish Defence Forces.


The Siege of Jadotville is a stirring war movie that transcends its limited budget, and occasional errors, with solid performances, well-paced action and at the core of it all, a great story about a brave group of Irish soldiers who have been forgotten for too long.

In 1961, during the Congo conflict, a group of inexperienced and under-equipped Irish United Nations soldiers display fierce resistance after coming under sustained attack from a mercenary force while their superiors in the UN quarrel over the mission’s fate.

Ireland’s participation in the Congolese crisis, when the mineral rich province of Katanga tried to secede from the Congo with the support of France, Belgium and other colonial powers, was a rare case of Irish involvement from the highest level of the UN to the front line troops who fought and died in battlefields such as Niemba and Elizabethville, the former a massacre of nine Irish soldiers, the latter an incredible, and successful, assault on a tunnel. Jadotville, for many reasons, but primarily bureaucratic cowardice, was virtually ignored until relatively recently.



Comdt Pat Quinlan (a solid Jamie Dornan) and Sgt Jack Prendergast (an excellent Jason O’Mara) lead the young men of A company into the Congo, where contrary to their orders, the people they are sent to protect do not want them there. The entire region is bankrolled by the, primarily French, mining companies. The French Government decide to send in former legionnaires to support the secessionist province and its corrupt ‘President’ Tshombe (Danny Sapani).

Arriving in the UN outpost at Jadotville, they find a hostile populace and an almost derelict, unfortified compound. In the words of O’Mara’s no nonsense Sergeant, “we’re wide open.” Quinlan orders his men to dig in as he becomes aware of the threats around him, particularly from the former legionnaire Falques (a classic sneering euro-baddy turn by Guillaume Canet), and their first meeting in a hostile local bar is one of the film's highlights, Canet’s disdain for the Irish Army’s lack of military history rebutted by Dornan’s reminder of France’s World War II capitulation.

There are events underway outside the knowledge of Quinlan’s company. Another Irishman, Conor Cruise O’Brien (Mark Strong), has been sent by the UN to direct operations there. He initiates Operation Morthor, an overtly aggressive UN offensive against Katanga, which results in the deaths of many secessionists, including civilians in a massacre by Indian troops. Seeking revenge against the UN, Tshombe sends Falques and his mercenaries to teach the UN a lesson at Jadotville, 150 (approx.) lightly armed Irish soldiers facing a force which numbered between 2,500 and 3,000.



As a war movie, The Siege of Jadotville succeeds. Director Richie Smyth brings great energy and timing to the battle scenes, along with some genuinely shocking moments as the Irish soldiers find their range and kill for the first time, displaying tactical resolve and merciless accuracy. O’Mara is excellent as the gruff, reliable and hard-as-nails Company Sergeant, with Dornan a quieter presence as Comdt Quinlan, but his performance as the untested commander, desperate to keep his men alive, and becoming increasingly frustrated by those on whom he relies for support, is his best to date.

Where the movie falls down in places is in the exchanges between Jadotville and O’Brien (Mark Strong) and the weak Irish General McEntee (Michael McElhatton) at UN HQ. The exchanges via radio are clumsy and lack the necessary intensity, and it’s a problem as the cack-handed attempts by the UN to reinforce the Jadotville mission was the reason the Irish ultimately had to hand over their empty weapons, having also run out of water, and were taken as hostages for a month. Mark Strong is one of the finest British actors working today, but his usual charisma seems compromised by the unlikeable portrayal of O’Brien, a capable politician and diplomat thrust into the unsuitable role of strategist. Also clumsily handled is the role of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold (Mikael Persbrandt), who was killed while en route to try and save the UN mission in the Congo.

Although the uranium deposits in Katanga were used for the production of nuclear weapons, positioning the film as a virtual cold-war thriller also smacks of over-reaching. Since this story is getting the Netflix treatment, a two or three episode series may have given greater scope for exploring the complex issues around the crisis, rather than the modest 140 minute running time.



The film does take dramatic licences, but only one really stretches the realms of any credibility, and the veterans of this battle, now finally recognised for their bravery by the Irish Government, have said it's as accurate a portrayal of what happened as could be expected in a film. As an Irishman, it's great to see a movie where an Irish soldier is portrayed not as a dead-eyed killer, a drunk or the comic relief element of another army, but as an extremely competent, well disciplined and incredibly brave soldier of the Irish Defence Forces. As a force, they were terribly equipped for the Congo in terms of equipment and logistics, but not in terms of resolve, training and organisation, as several hundred of their attackers soon discovered.

While not perfect by any means, The Siege of Jadotville salutes an act of courage that plenty in Ireland like to deny their soldiers as being capable of. Like most soldiers, they evidently had no desire to kill, but the mistake their opponents made was equating the size of a country with the bravery of its soldiers. For all its minor faults, The Siege of Jadotville does a strong job of telling a compelling story while also not sparing the bureaucrats and Defence Forces Generals for their incompetence in hanging the men out to dry after they were forced to surrender, and again when they returned to Ireland. That this story can now be told to an international audience via Netflix is only to be welcomed.

Ruairi Kavanagh is editor of SIGNAL Journal, the official publication of RACO, which represents the Officer Corps of the Irish Defence Forces. He is a civilian and writing in a personal capacity.

The Siege of Jadotville is available on Netflix from October 7th.






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