The movie opens in 1922, with Kitty Kiernan mourning the death of Michael Collins, and Joe O’Reilly attempting to console her. From there it flashes back to 1916, when Collins and his compatriots were captured by the British Army. The movie portrays Collins’ foresight and innovation as a leader, especially when he is shown to be telling Boland that next time they would not play by the British rules, but rather make up their own. The movie shows how Collins recognized the need for guerilla warfare and the pointlessness of conventional attacks.
However, de Valera strongly opposes his tactics and supports the conventional rules of fighting with the British. After Collins’ release from an internment camp, he is conducting a rally when it is attacked and he is injured. His friend Boland rescues him and together they hide out and recoup at a friend’s farm. That is where they meet the pretty Kitty, who begins a romance with Boland.
Their struggles continue, and soon Collins receives a tip that the British are going to arrest de Valera and the Cabinet. De Valera has other ideas which do not include going into hiding. He believes that if they are arrested there would be a huge outcry from the public, demanding their release. The Cabinet is arrested, but Boland and Collins manage to escape. However, de Valera sees it as a threat when he realizes that in spite of being arrested, there was no protest from the public, all because Collins was not imprisoned.
After Collins and Boland break Valera out of prison, he insists on meeting with Woodrow Wilson in US so as to seek recognition, and asserts that Boland should travel with him. Once Valera leaves for the United States, Collins is left in charge and he orders the IRA to carry out various surprise attacks, which put the IRA at an advantage. However, when Valera returns, he insists they go back to conventional formal military attacks. Collins advises him against it, but not heeding Collins advice, Valera goes ahead with an attack on The Custom House, which fails badly, with many IRA members killed and captured.
Worried that the IRA are on their last leg, Collins is surprised when the British call a cease fire. Valera then orders Collins to go as a negotiator to England, knowing fully that Collins is not one. And when Collins returns after having signed an Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) Valera is enraged that he was not told of the terms of the Treaty before it was signed. Collins argues for the treaty, while Valera and his supporters are staunchly against it. Both the sides try hard to sway the Irish public in their favour.
When anti-Treaty Republicans attack Collins, he barely manages to escape. In the aftermath, he further solidifies his already blooming relationship with Kitty, who throughout the movie is shown to be torn between the two men. Collins asks her to marry him and she accepts. Finally the Irish people vote to approve the Treaty. However, Valera refuses to accept this and orders the IRA to fight against its former comrades. Collins who is now Chief of Staff of the National Army hates that he has to stand up against his fellow compatriots all because of Valera.
But the Treaty had been signed, and as a result, the Irish Free State Army is given an ultimatum to deal with IRA, or else the British Army will. Despite Collins attempts to capture his long standing friend and compatriot Boland, he gets killed while trying to escape. Distraught by his friend’s death, Collins tries to reach out to Valera to try and arrange a peace treaty. However, without the knowledge of de Valera, an arbitrator informs Collins that Valera is willing to meet. Collins walks right into a set up where he is killed. The film ends with Collins’ funeral.
While the movie shows Collins in a heroic light, it is de Valera’s character which is portrayed in a rather weak light. It may be true that he was responsible for some of the tragic events that took place, but to cast him as an enemy of the Irish state on equal footing with the British is a tad too controversial. However, overall, the movie and its focus on Collins throw some light on the Irish struggle. The movie also argues that if Collins had not died he might have succeeded in uniting Ireland and saving many lives.
The only area the movie falls short of expectations is the romantic angle or rather triangle between Collins, Kitty and Boland. The romantic scenes only serve as a break from the movie and not much else. But on the whole, the movie is well made, and worth a watch, especially to understand the heroism of Collins and his struggle for a united, liberated Ireland.