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Rebel Heart (film): Wikis


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Rebel Heart
Format Drama
Starring James D'Arcy
Vincent Regan
Paloma Baeza
Brendan Coyle
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of episodes 4
Running time 50 minutes per episode
Original channel BBC
Original airing 7 January 2001

Rebel Heart is a 2001 British television drama miniseries starring James D'Arcy as the fictional Ernie Coyne, an Irish nationalist. It is in four parts, and set during the Irish War of Independence from 1916 (The Easter Rising) until the end of the Civil War. Michael Collins was idolised by Ernie, and was consequently featured frequently, as a leader and as a friend. It generated a large amount of controversy before its release.


Main cast

Actor Role
James D'Arcy Ernie Coyne
Vincent Regan Tom O'Toole
Frank Laverty Kelly
Paloma Baeza Ita Feeney
Dawn Bradfield Ursula Feeney
Brendan Coyle Michael Collins
Lorcan Cranitch Insp. Nelson


The idea for a series about the Easter Rising and Irish Civil War first emerged in 1994.

Despite most major characters being Irish, the leading roles were mostly played by British-born actors.



First episode

In the first instalment of Rebel Heart we are introduced to the character Ernie Coyne and his exploits during the Easter Rising of 1916. Ernie's nationalistic overtones are contrasted against the working class marxism of the other characters, including Tom O'Toole (Vincent Regan) and Kelly (Frank Laverty). On the evening of the first day at the General Post Office Ernie's mother comes by to try and convince him to come home. The upper class manner in which she is dressed is commented on by O'Toole and Kelly because of their working class origins. Ernie takes the job of runner (dispatch carrier), relaying orders between the different units around Dublin that have been cut off from one ane other. When delivering his first message to St Stephen's Green he meets sisters Ita Feeney (Paloma Baeza) and Ursula Feeney (Dawn Bradfield) who, with a group of republican soldiers, are pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. One of the sisters kills the machine gunner thus stopping the fire that is pinning the republican soldiers down and allowing them to fall back to the College of Surgeons. After delivering his report Ernie goes off on his other run where he continually dodges danger whilst delivering his messages.

On his final run down to Northumberland Road all he finds is the dead bodies of the republicans that have been killed by the British. However he is able to locate four remaining survivors of the unit to whom he gives the chocolate that his mother gave him earlier as it is painfully clear that the four men will die. The rebellion collapses, when it emerges that the Irish people have not risen to support it. In fact the reaction to the rebellion from most Irish people, Protestant and Roman Catholic was hostile. As the government forces close in, Patrick Pearse ordered a general unconditional surrender. Ernie is captured and imprisoned with the rest of his associates, refusing the special treatment arranged for him by his influential father.

The episode finishes with a number of the rebel leaders, such as Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke, being tried by military tribunal and executed for treason (for leading a rebellion while their country was at war with Imperial Germany).

Second episode

The Irish Volunteers are released from jail in 1916, their early release a gesture of attempted concilliation by the British authorities. When they arrive in Dublin aboard a train they are greeted by a fervently nationalistic crowd, waving Irish tricolours. Coyne returns to his upper-middle class family in Dublin. He has secured a place at the prestigious Trinity College Dublin, leading to the contempt of some of his working-class fellow Easter Rising veterans.

However, Coyne is soon involved with separatist politics again. He involves himself in vote-rigging in the 1918 General Election to try and boost Sinn Féin's chances against the liberal nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party and unionist Irish Unionist Party, much to the disgust of his respectable parents. Sinn Féin won the election in a landslide victory, often uncontested in seats, and this gave a more official nature to their claim to speak for the people of Ireland.

His involvement leads to Coyne becoming mixed up once more with the militant wing of the movement, who want to drive the British out by killing British soldiers and members of the Royal Irish Constabulary. One of the veterans of the Easter Rising Michael Collins is playing a leading role in the embyronic Irish Republican Army. A number of events such as the burial of County Meath militant Thomas Ashe, who had died on hunger strike, persuaded Coyne and many other Irishmen to take up arms against the government forces.


The production of Rebel Heart proved to be very controversial with various different people. It was most heavily criticised in Britain for what was perceived as its slanted viewpoint of the events between 1916 and 1922.

Criticised in particular was the involvement of the BBC in making a film purportedly propagandising for the IRA during the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble attacked the corporation for making a series that could be used as propaganda for the modern IRA.[1] [2]

It was also attacked by Irish nationalist historians, who highlighted the fact that the series portrayed Michael Collins in a bad and sinister light, particularly in the later episodes when he signs a peace treaty with the British, which angered many supporters of Collins.[3] Some saw the programme’s critique of Collins as long overdue, in contrast to the 1996 film Michael Collins which was accused of being a hagiography.[4]

Media Releases

The series has not yet been released on DVD.

See also


  1. ^ Rebels against British tyranny|13Jan01|Socialist Worker
  2. ^ Ronan Bennett hits back | UK news | The Observer
  3. ^ An Phoblacht/Republican News
  4. ^ reverse shot - the new magazine of film culture

External links


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