Director: Richie Smyth
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Jason O’Mara, Mark Strong
Watch The Siege of Jadotville online in the UK: Netflix UK
“The fuck do we do now?” says one soldier halfway through The Siege of Jadotville. “The mission now is to get the men out alive,” replies Irish Commandant Pat Quinlan (Dornan). If that sounds like a simplified version of war, you’d be right – and that’s what gives Netflix’s original film its punch.
The movie, based on the book by Declan Power, sheds light on a largely unknown story in Irish history, when the country’s troops were shipped out to the Congo as part of the UN’s peacekeeping force in 1961, with the job of protecting Jadotville from erupting into civil war. Protection proved sadly necessary, though, as Katangan forces in the wake of the assassination of PM Patrice Lumumba – alongside French and Belgian mercenaries working for mining companies – laid siege to the mineral-rich area. At the same time, the UN had their own operations in other parts of the region, but these were kept from the Irish battalion. The result was a standoff that lasted for days: 150 men vs 3,000 enemies.
The numbers are astounding – almost as astounding as the strange, secretive behaviour of the military at the time. While that may cry out for an in-depth dissection of the complex situation, though, The Siege of Jadotville does exactly what it says on the tin: it depicts the nailbiting siege with real immediacy, throwing us into the fray with only the bare minimum of context. That not only makes for a fast-paced thriller, but also makes for the most accurate depiction of the soldiers’ experience possible: throughout, we only really know as much as they do.
Repeatedly, we see the outnumbered men making phone calls back home, asking for help, whiskey – and, most of all, answers. The uncertainty hangs thick in the air. “What’s it like getting shot?” asks one. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” quips Quinlan.
Dornan is great in the lead, barking orders with the kind of intensity so suited in Fifty Shades and The Fall. He wears his uniform with charisma, his shrewd strategic planning sparking well against Guillaume Canet’s Rene Faulques, leading the opposition.
Aside from a scene where the pair get to square off with each other in a local bar, though, much of the material away from the conflict feels a tad underdeveloped, from Quinlan’s family life to Emmannuelle Seigner’s Belgian living in the town.
But what a siege it is: director Richie Smyth choreographs the action with the same precision displayed by Pat, from the frantic rush of troops out of the woods to the careful digging of trenches and setting of traps. Trucks flip, helicopters crash, bombs explode and it all unfolds with a raw urgency. Ever since Saving Private Ryan, it’s been hard for war movies to make much of an impact with their set pieces. With what is effectively one long set piece, Smyth does a fantastic job of keeping tensions high – one that’s even more impressive, given this is his directorial debut.
Things wrap up disappointingly quickly, with Kevin Brodbin’s script leaving many of the supporting characters feeling like stock types along the way (the perspective of the locals barely get a look in). But when it comes to the information provided by Mark Strong’s UN officer, that lack of depth pays off – barely pausing for reflection, The Siege of Jadotville presents us with a boiled-down, visceral take on war: one that reminds us a soldier’s primary aim is to survive, while other people make all the decisions.
The Siege of Jadotville is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.