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Hollywood hype meets an Irish icon

THE HOLLYWOOD star might have expected a warmer welcome for the news that he is about to shoot an epic production in Ireland. But there is far from universal delight in Dublin at Kevin Costner's plans to direct and star in a film on the life of the nationalist hero Michael Collins.

Costner recently flew to Ireland for a whirlwind tour of west Cork (where Collins was born) and Dublin with the writer Eoghan Harris, who is rattling out a screenplay with a deadline of next month. Costner hopes to start shooting next spring, with release later in the year. 'He seems determined to make this film swiftly,' said Harris.

The script will be unashamedly in the Hollywood mode, a 'ripping good yarn' about the man who participated in the 1916 Easter Rising and was assassinated after negotiating the 1921 treaty which led to the foundation of the Irish Free State.

The Irish traditionally have an ambivalent attitude when American film-makers fly in. On the one hand they welcome the jobs and income that are generated; on the other, they rarely like the way they are portrayed.

Take Far and Away, the most recent US dabbling in Irish history. The dollars 60m production generated significant amounts of work for around 400 Irish people. But the star, Tom Cruise, was lambasted for his 'Oirish' accent and the plot for repeating 'colonial stereotypes'.

Mr Harris has no patience with such views. 'I've made no secret of my contempt for people who are happy to draw income from something and then bad- mouth it,' he said.

Some want to see an Irish actor portray the hero (Hollywood once cast Clark Gable as Charles Stewart Parnell). 'There are many fine Irish actors who have grown up with the Michael Collins story and could bring cultural understanding to the role. Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne spring most readily to mind,' argued Francine Cunningham, film critic of the Sunday Business Post.

Again, Mr Harris is unrepentant. 'Kevin Costner knows his Michael Collins very well and appreciates that I don't want a film which will provide any aid or comfort to the Provisional IRA. He has the ideal screen presence and charisma to play Collins.'

Moreover, Mr Harris has been accused of 'myth-making' by Tim Pat Coogan, Collins's biographer, for drawing attention to the rebel's active love life. Collins's nephew, also called Michael, said recently: 'Let's stick to the facts. . . it's easy to conjure up fictions which cannot be refuted by the long-dead.'

These waters are further muddied by Mr Harris's own erratic political progress. An adviser to Mary Robinson during the Irish presidential election, he has changed allegiance several times. A one-time adviser to Fine Gael, he joined the left-wing Workers Party but left after denouncing socialism. He remains a critic of Irish nationalism. 'I refuse to be intimidated by the nationalist rump in the Irish film industry. Begrudgery is a basic fact of life on this island,' he said.

(Photographs omitted)