THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE joins a tradition of valor v. politics that goes back as far as Thermopylae, whereby a small group of soldiers are placed in a stand-and-die trap against overwhelming odds. Usually that decision—the Big Picture excuse—is made for them by those far away from the battlefield. This time, young men from Ireland take the fall for screw-ups from on high.
Geopolitics were on one of their numerous knife-edges in 1961, when the United Nations sent peacekeeping troops to the Congo, where the breakaway State of Katanga and its array of characters, causes and —voila! vital minerals—made for another looming showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Secretary of the U.N., Dag Hammarskjöld (played by Mikael Persbrandt) assigns Irish political figure Conor Cruise O’Brien (played by Mark Strong) to orchestrate responses to rebel leader Moise Tshombe (Danny Sapani). One of O’Brien’s units is a 157-man outfit from Ireland, commanded by Pat Quinlan (Jamie Dornan). Neither the officer nor any of his men have ever seen combat. In no time, they see all of that they want, when their badly positioned and poorly supplied compound is attacked by thousands of Katangese, led by war-hardened foreign mercenaries. As the situation spirals toward disaster, Quinlan’s dismissive commanding general snips at the young officer “Carry out your orders, commandant. Hold your ground. Defend Jadotville.” Quinlan’s frustrated reply: “With what? A firm tone?
Directed by Richie Smyth, the screenplay by Kevin Brodpin is based off Declan Power’s 2005 book “The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle”. Location shooting in South Africa works to advantage, and the copious action scenes are well handled. The cast is good, but the script is just so-so, tending to fall back too often clichés that are so familiar as to be heritage—“We’re out of ammo!” “Medic!” etc. Still, the long-untold story commands interest, with the political ass-covering and shameful shafting of the soldiers: after a really remarkable defense, they were basically accused of being cowards because they didn’t all get killed. Dornan and Strong are quite good, the young lrish lads are likable company. There’s a neat bit of supporting work from the imposing Guillaume Canet, radiating lethal confidence as a French mercenary modeled after famous soldier of fortune Roger Faulques, one monsieur you’d never want to mess with.
With Jason O’Mara, Sam Keely, Fiona Glascott, Emmanuelle Seigner, Conor MacNeill. 108 minutes.