"Henry V" Actor Kenneth Branagh to Play Iraq Hero Col Tim Collins in BBC Drama

Daily Mail, 20 January 2008
By Sarah Oliver

**Thanks Terry, Jude

His legendary eve-of-battle speech was likened to the stuff of Shakespeare. Now war hero Colonel Tim Collins is to be played by "Henry V" star Kenneth Branagh.

The 47-year-old actor will recreate the Colonel's rousing words "We go to liberate not to conquer ... if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory" in a BBC drama examining the days leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Colonel, with his trademark Ray-Ban sunglasses and fat cigar, won an OBE for his leadership. But he quit the Army the following year after being wrongly accused of war crimes.

He has met Mr Branagh to discuss the role. The two men found a swift rapport and the soldier loaned the actor his desert combats and his Army identity dogtags to add authenticity to his costume.

Colonel Collins's extraordinary oration, made without notes, was given to 1,000 men of the Royal Irish battlegroup at their Kuwaiti desert camp Fort Blair Mayne in March 2003. Within hours the battlegroup, of which the Colonel was then commanding officer, had massed on the Iraqi border spearheading the British invasion force. Meanwhile, his moving words were making headlines around the world. They earned him the praise of Prince Charles, who wrote him a personal letter of congratulation, and a copy is believed to have been hung in the White House.

Colonel Collins, also 47, revealed: "I was first approached about the project in November and I met Kenneth Branagh between Christmas and New Year.

"At the time of the speech, people regularly referred to it as Shakespearean and Branagh is the foremost Shakespearean actor of his generation, so he is the right man for the job. The tone of my words was said to resemble those of Henry V at the battle of Agincourt although of course that was never my intention."

Mr Branagh was nominated for two Oscars for the 1989 film, "Henry V", which he starred in and directed.

Colonel Collins added: "My speech was off the cuff and made without notes in response to a comment from my driver that a lot of the younger lads in the battalion didn't really understand why they were going to war. To me it was crucial they should not be asked to risk their lives for a cause they weren't clear about and I summoned them all to the centre of Fort Blair Mayne."

"I had no inkling that it would have such an impact. I was too busy preparing for battle to think of the consequences. But obviously it had great resonance at the time and I am flattered that on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, the BBC should want to feature it."

A BBC source said: "Colonel Tim is a big character in real life and that makes him a big character to deliver on screen."

The BBC2 programme is expected to be broadcast on March 19, the anniversary of the speech. It is understood to be one of a series of dramas about various aspects of the countdown to war.

The episode featuring Colonel Collins, who is now working in security in Fallujah, the most dangerous city in Iraq, is to be filmed on location in the desert.

In his speech he told his men: "There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam. He and his forces will be destroyed for what they have done to the people. As they die, they will know it is their deeds which have brought them to this place. Show them no pity. It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain among them."

He has since written a book, gives after-dinner speeches and acted as a consultant for a number of private military companies.


Back to 10 Days to War | Back to Articles Listing | Back to the Compendium