The Siege of Jadotville (dir. Richie Smyth, 2016) – In 1961, Irish commandant Pat Quinlan led an army against mercenaries during a peacekeeping mission in the Congo.
A riveting true story. The little-known Siege of Jadotville gets a deserving tribute, if lacking in historical context.
In 1961, 155 Irish soldiers stood their ground on the battlefield against a 3,000-strong Kantangese army, backed by European mercenaries. Following the six-day siege and a month spent as prisoners-of-war, they suffered zero fatalities. If you have never heard of this extraordinary battle, you are not alone.
For decades, The Siege of Jadotville remained unwritten history. None of the young Irishmen were recognised for their military valour. Instead, they were humiliated with the term “Jadotville Jack”. This was invented as a derisive label for their forced surrender, a sensible move that was dismissed as cowardice.
It took 40 long years before the veterans were finally cleared of misconduct. This came nine years too late for Commandant Pat Quinlan, who died in 1997. The tragedy of which makes The Siege of Jadotville an especially powerful story and an essential watch.
Based on Declan Power’s significant historical book of the same name, the film finally shines a light on these exceptional young men. While inexperienced in warfare and thrown in at the deep end, they valiantly scraped the jaws of death and escaped being collateral damage to political warfare.
Director Richie Smyth stays respectful to the true events, honouring the unit behind the incredible combat. The result is a heart-pounding spectacle. Relentless assaults maintain the gravity of their predicament, even if the outcome is known. In this exchange of fire with no end in sight, the men impressively remain as stoic as they possibly can.
Put through an actual training camp, the cast commits to bringing the company’s stories of courage to life. Standouts include the credible portrayals of tactical leader Pat Quinlan (Jamie Dornan) and company sniper Bill Ready (Sam Keeley). Their established personalities far exceed the remainder of the army, who settle for likeable banter on the sidelines.
Politics also fade into the background, playing second stringer to the tense war sequences. Most of the history is inferred through brief scenes between academic diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien (Mark Strong) and Katangan president Moise Tshombe (Danny Sapani). While strongly acted by the pair, the screenplay paints the complex background in but broad strokes.
Such minimal context puts it below genre classics like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan, necessitating further reading of its richer source material. Still, it is understandable for the limelight to fall upon the Irish company, once so unfairly disavowed in an odious shame campaign. For these brave men, The Siege of Jadotville is a gripping tribute that their true heroics have always deserved. And it sure has been a long time coming.