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The latest Netflix-produced film is a well-made examination of a lesser-known historical event that developed at the start of the Congo Crisis, as the country became independent of Belgium and its rich natural resources garnered international interests, particularly from the superpowers. Over the next five years, starting 1961, the country’s political upheaval, with the United States and Russia supporting opposites sides, led to numerous deadly conflicts as groups struggled for control that left more than a 100,000 dead.
In the early days, the United Nations, designed to prevent large-scale wars, and looking for a chance to prove its worth, moved into the county in support of the removal of Belgium led secessionist states. Representing the UN was a division of Irish soldiers, chosen for their country’s neutral standing. Facing hostility from the Belgian and French, who had long gained great wealth from the Congolese mines, the soldiers set up at a small camp called Jadotville. They are an inexperienced force with few provisions and support who face heavy resistance from French and Congolese mercenaries all while their superiors stage their own battle over the purpose and use of the mission.
Directed by Richard Smythe, the film features a strong cast, led by Jamie Dornan as Commandant Pat Quinlan, the Irish commanding officer of the Irish army’s second wave, who recognizes the importance of his position in the game and serves as a stalwart and honorable leader for his soldiers. He is surrounded by a young cast of men who form the small post’s contingency whom all do well as the collection of brave and dutiful fighters. Among them is Sgt Jack Prendergast (Jason O’Mara), who is a standout, playing the hard-edged opposite of the unproven Quinlan. He’s a man you’d follow anywhere.
Others in the cast that don’t quite find the same level of success are the usually always effective Mark Strong, playing Irishman Conor Cruise, head of the larger operation who initiates Operation Morthor, a military offensive led by Indians troops that goes bad quickly, leading to a high number of innocent casualties. Strong isn’t as convincing as he should be and in fact, most of the UN sequences fail to give the story the larger sense of place that is requires, though thankfully, these moments are not frequent.
While dramatic license allows for some extended bits of credibility-stretching moments, for the most part the well-defined characters and strong dialogue make up for these lapses. There’s a fine scene before the conflict starts when, truthfully or not, Quinlan meets Rene Faulques (Guillaume Canet), a former legionnaire and now leader of the French mercenaries hired to prevent international takeover of the mines. Gentleman warriors in the pub, the two sit across from each and share a bottle of Cognac trading barbs over military history and their country’s role in previous wars. Quinlan also has encounters with Madame LaFontagne (Emmanuelle Seigner), a wealthy windowed French woman who represents the old ways clinging to the past but seeing a future soaked in violence.
The Siege at Jadotville is, if anything, a welcome look at a little-known page in Irish history and should spur some research for those interested to seek out more. Netflix Original movies have been a series of often lesser quality films that once in awhile produce a gem. While this African-set story isn’t on par with Beasts of No Nation, it’s well worth adding to your queue.
Director: Richie Smyth
Writers: Kevin Brodbin, Declan Power (based on the novel by)
Stars: Jamie Dornan, Jason O'Mara, Mark Strong, Guillaume Canet, Emmanuelle Seigner
Genre: Historical Drama, War
Language: English, Irish