“I feel happiness the like of which I never experienced in my life before… I die that the Irish Nation might live.”
-Seán Mac Diarmada, 1916
Kevin McCann, director of upcoming film The Rising, pulls no punches in his mission to revise thought on the Easter Rising 100 years on. This biopic stars Colin Morgan (The Fall) as revolutionary leader Seán Mac Diarmada, Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) as Patrick Pearse, and Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey) as Augustine Birrell, and follows Mac Diarmada’s through the six days of insurrection to his execution as the last of the Rising’s ringleaders to face the firing squad at the notorious Kilmainham Gaol.
What can you tell us about the film?
I’m looking to tell the story of the Easter Rebellion in a motion picture for the first time. It hasn’t been covered before in 100 years and I started out in 2012 with the understanding that there may be a few films made in time for the centenary. To my amazement, the other films didn’t take off and now The Rising is the only film in consideration for telling this momentous occasion.
Liam Neeson was in a film called Michael Collins 20 years ago and Ken Loach did The Wind That Shakes The Barley ten years ago, so we’re preparing a film that is the prequel to those two events in Irish history, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil war.
How important is it that the film is historically accurate?
It’s very important to me because it’s what’s taken me so long to get the film into production. I’ve spent quite a long time talking to people from different perspectives. I’ve interviewed families of all the seven signatories of the Irish proclamation document and read in-depth texts from all points of view.
Of course there are times when you have to take dramatic liberties but to be honest if you read the story of Seán Mac Diarmada, a farmer’s son who took on an empire and was executed for it after his people rose up to claim a free republic, you don’t have to stretch too far from the truth to create a compelling story. The story is as dramatic as one you would make up. Although it’s based in fact, it has the power of the greatest mythology.
What stage in production are you at the moment?
We’re not in production at the moment. I’m in Los Angeles talking to producers about packaging the film. We have the actors in place but the nature of filmmaking is that you have to find the money from different areas, and we have half of ours in place from the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen but we are looking in the USA for private investors, which is crucial.
Do you think enough people know or understand the Easter Rising in 2016?
You have to ask the question: why has no one in Ireland done a film on the Easter Rising in 100 years? My answer to that is that we are uncomfortable talking about it and therefore it has been left untold. Some people consider it an embarrassment or a failure led by naive romantics or idealists. The revisionist view is that these rebels had no mandate from the people and that for me is rubbish and convenient language used to dismiss heroic efforts. It’s fascinating finding out about the history of your country and the nature of people. We’re essentially looking at the classic story of slave vs master or David vs Goliath. I have a responsibility as a filmmaker to tell stories about my time and my place and I take that very seriously.
I’m still studying the Easter Rising myself after four years of reading up about it. There is certainly one train of thought that it was a military failure and destroyed the city of Dublin. I completely disagree. The rebellion was a necessary part of Irish history and the empire had been there in some form for 600 to 700 years and Ireland believed that it needed its economic and cultural freedom. There were people who were moved and motivated enough to say, “Now is our time to act.”
All great rebel heroes were misunderstood, even by their own people. The Irish people did not want a rebellion because they were getting concessions from the empire but at some point in all civilizations, major shifts happen. It was the action of 1,500 men and women against millions. It was a heroic act and ultimately a success and triumph for Ireland but there are people who would disagree with me heavily. I think the film will be controversial but I look forward to that as the Easter Rising has been misremembered, dismissed and disregarded by many, many people.