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Rebel Heart (2001)

TV miniseries review: Rebel Heart (2001), directed by John Strickland

Rebel Heart is a BBC miniseries following a young, upper class Dubliner called Ernie Coyne (James D’Arcy), a volunteer in the Easter Rising, used to carry messages between the different rebel holds around town. He’s not seen as very serious, because of his posh upbringing, which means that to the rest of the rebels, he is seen as someone who’s just tagging along because it seems cool, but in a pinch, he’s going to run home to his mammy.

As it happens, his strict father wants nothing to do with the politics of the day, but Ernie is truly dedicated and prooves himself an able rebel. As the Easter Rising draws to a close, we follow him through the following few years, through the War of Independence, and how he works as a messenger for Michael Collins (Brendan Coyle), and how he falls in love with Belfast girl Ita Feeney (Paloma Baeza), and so on.

Other actors include Vincent Regan as Tom O’Toole, Frank Laverty as Kelly, and Dawn Bradfield as Ursula Feeney. The first (of four) episode also features Bill Paterson as James Connolly, with Liam Cunningham as Michael Malone and Daragh O’Malley as James Grace holding fort at the Royal College of Surgeons.

A while back, I was looking through Brendan Coyle’s filmography on IMDb, and saw something called Rebel Heart, where he played the part of Michael Collins. “Hang on,” I said to myself, doing a doule-take of the name and the title of the production, “does that mean the Michael Collins?” And by that, I’m not referring to the guy who didn’t walk on the surface of the moon in July 1969, but the guy from Irish history. As it turns out, yes, that’s exactly the person they meant, and my reaction to Brendan Coyle having played him, Irish accent and all, was what you call a total fangasm.

At least until I learned this BBC miniseries has not been released on DVD, and if you can find a VHS, it’s pretty expensive. “Woe is the world, we are never going to be able to see Brendan Coyle as Mick Collins!” was my thought, and then I googled it. Turns out someone’s been nice enough to put the whole shebang on YouTube. RESULT! 😀

Sadly, this means that the image quality was very poor, and every ten minutes there was a slight pause as it moved from one video in the playlist to the next, but beggars can’t be choosers. BBC, if you see this, PLEASE put Rebel Heart out on DVD so I can re-watch it in a proper picture quality and gush even more over how much I loved this show!

They’re all off to Dublin in the green.

Because yes, it’s very well done. BBC miniseries tend to be very good, let’s be honest, and this is certainly no exception. It’s a good way of learning about a chapter in Irish history, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the historical characters – Collins in particular – it was also nice to follow someone who hasn’t made the history books. Okay, as far as I know, Ernie Coyne is a made up character, but he’s there as an example of all the other rebels the history books often fail to mention because they keep in the background.

The love story between Ita and Ernie was sweet, if not overly engaging, and it was nice to see Ernie prove himself to the other men (and women), in that he didn’t just pretend to be a fighter, but he actually fought as much as everyone else. Strangely, O’Toole actually says that he’s not fighting for the cause (freedom) as such, while for Ernie, the cause is paramount. And also, O’Toole keeps fighting …

D’Arcy played Ernie very well, and I loved seeing Paterson, Cunningham and especially O’Malley (Sharpe’s sidekick) play a part. Granted, I was in this for the Big Fellow, and I didn’t think Coyle – or his character – got quite enough camera time. Wasn’t Ernie Coyne billed as Collins’s right hand man, more or less? I expected more Collins! Still, what we get is fabulous. Brendan Coyle with an Irish accent, be still my heart. In a uniform, to boot, as an Irish rebel. Makes me want to run around the street shouting “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!” in a less than ladylike fashion. He isn’t much of a Big Fellow, though, because D’Arcy and a number of other actors are actually taller, but, like all the historical figures portrayed in Rebel Heart, bears a surprising likeness to the real man.

(I really ought to get around to reading all my Irish history books. Maybe this might work as an incentive.)

I couldn’t stop watching this. I had to, because it was getting very late at night, but I continued the next day and didn’t stop until all the parts were watched. And so could you. If you have four hours to spare while digesting the weekend’s big dinner, stick around – here’s episode one, part one:

5 out of 5 besieged GPOs.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

6 thoughts on “Rebel Heart (2001)

  1. Have been looking for this for years. As you say, the VHS copy is expensive. Would love to have it on DVD.

    1. Apparently you CAN get it on DVD – from Japan! It’s a cut-down version, so not four hour-long episodes, but rather a film of about 90 minutes. Hardly sounds worth it. 🙁

          1. I’ve checked and double checked. It’s only on YouTube in bits and bobs. Why ? No idea !

          2. The episodes I saw were in ~10 min chunks, as that used to be the upload limit, but when I watched, all pieces were there. Was a few years ago now, though.

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