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How Jamie Dornan is adding sex appeal to a siege

In a career move that's 50 shades from Christian Grey, Co Down actor Jamie Dornan plays an Irish UN peacekeeper who managed to survive an ambush in the Congo. By Ed Power

Published 17/09/2016

Change of scene: Jamie Dornan in The Siege of Jadotville
Change of scene: Jamie Dornan in The Siege of Jadotville
Jamie Dornan with Dakota Johnson in 50 Shades of Grey

The trailer for the forthcoming Netflix movie The Siege of Jadotville is a masterclass in old-fashioned Hollywood shock and awe. Machine-guns roar, soldiers weave between explosions, a helicopter and fighter jet tangle in mid-air combat. You expect Bruce Willis and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger to turn up halfway through, pithy one-liners locked and loaded.

The slick and stylish promo has certainly had the desired impact, with nearly a quarter of a million views online thus far. Yet far from another Tinseltown destruction derby, Jadotville sets out to tell a complicated story.

The movie recounts the true-life tale of Irish UN peacekeepers, ambushed by mercenaries during the Congo's brutal civil war 55 years ago, and how they fought off 5,000 guerrillas before running out of supplies.

A relatively obscure nugget of military history, generally forgotten and unheard of anywhere else, may appear an unlikely recipe for success.

Yet Netflix, masters of making people care about shows they initially know very little about, has somehow turned Jadotville, which debuts on Netflix on October 7, into a very big deal, one that has grabbed the imaginations of many of its 80 million subscribers around the world.

Given the particulars of the story, Jadotville was always going to be a draw here. Yet, when the promo reel was released last week, it made headlines internationally.

Without question that was in large part due to the casting of Fifty Shades of Grey actor Jamie Dornan, from Holywood, Co Down, as Commandant Pat Quinlan, who led the 157 troops in their shootout against the Congolese, and the Belgian and French mercenaries assisting them.

Dornan has always seemed quietly embarrassed by Fifty Shades (the second sequel to which, Fifty Shades Darker, is released in February).

Nonetheless, the S&M sauce-fest has won him a global fanbase - more than enough to draw the spotlight to a theoretically minority-interest movie about soldiers caught up a post-colonial power-grab.

However, Jadotville also benefits from the decision to make an arresting film, rather than 100% accurate docudrama.

The scene at the end of the trailer, in which thousands of mercenaries surround the soldiers' compound, for instance, is largely an invention, with most of the real fighting consisting of ambushes and skirmishes. Jadotville looks like a thrilling romp because that is what it wants to be.

"How to you take this historical stuff and make a piece of cinema out of it?" ponders director Richie Smyth.

"It's not a documentary. I spoke to a lot of soldiers, a lot of historians. Everyone has a different story. You start to find a path through it.

"To engage that audience you take certain aspects - the original battle was more skirmishes. To help the audiences understand we brought it all to one place. That's the cinema aspect of it. I would like to think we kept to the historic truth."

As for Dornan, it has unquestionably added to his likeability. In his public appearances, he comes across as humble, self-deprecating, at pains to play down his success and his status as an object of lust (he is married with two young daughters).

He has also, counter-intuitively, built a career from playing cold, unpleasant men - first as a charming serial killer in The Fall, then as the whips and chains-happy romantic interest in Fifty Shades. Thus Jadotville offers his many fans a rare opportunity to see him as the straightforward good guy.

"I'm delighted. They probably landed on the ideal guy," says Declan Power, author of the book on which The Siege of Jadotville is based.

"One thing that struck me is that he (Dornan) doesn't look unlike Quinlan when he has facial hair. There is about 10 years between them."

In addition to confirming Dornan's star power, the excitement around Jadotville speaks to the enormous reach and influence of Netflix.

While the movie is to have a limited cinematic release in the UK from Monday, internationally it will premiere on the streaming service on October 7 - the most high-profile feature to do so since last year's Beasts of No Nation, from True Detective director Cary Fukunaga.

Though Netflix usually declines to release audience figures and ratings, it is believed that over three million people saw Beasts within the first two weeks. And that was a dark drama about child soldiers - lacking Jadotville's gung-ho set-pieces, or Dornan's star wattage.

"I think it's a bigger audience than any specialty film could ever hope for in its first two weeks of release, and maybe for its entire run. And we're just starting," says Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

"This was No 1 in really diverse countries - Japan, Brazil, Mexico - places where these kinds of films typically never open. It's been incredibly gratifying to see these audiences respond to this film."

If Jadotville receives anything like the same reception, it will give the movie a previously unthinkable platform.

For Dornan, director Smyth and everyone else involved, it promises to be an explosive few weeks ahead.

Belfast Telegraph

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