Portillo’s Easter Rising film to be aired tonight

Michael Portillo, outside the GPO in Dublin, site of the 1916 Easter Rising, for the documentary that he has made about the rebellion. Photo Midas Productions
Michael Portillo, outside the GPO in Dublin, site of the 1916 Easter Rising, for the documentary that he has made about the rebellion. Photo Midas Productions
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An hour-long documentary on the Easter Rising, presented by Michael Portillo, will be screened on BBC Northern Ireland tonight.

The film uses archival documents to explore the then British perspective on the rebellion in Dublin, which happened a century ago.

Mr Portillo, who was one of the youngest Conservative cabinet ministers of the 20th century but later lost his seat as an MP in the 1997 general election, travels to the Republic for the programme.

The former Defence Secretary interviews the journalists Robert Fisk and Kevin Myers in Dublin, and the former security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones in London.

He also speaks to the one-time Chief of the General Staff General Lord Dannat, about the military tactics that were deployed to suppress the Rising.

The documentary, which has already been screened on RTE, uses the testimonies of British spies, soldiers, politicians and bureaucrats.

It uncovers files that show that the British authorities were in receipt of intelligence of an impending uprising but ignored the intelligence, perhaps because they did not believe it.

Mr Portillo traces the journey across the Irish Sea of the reluctant English soldiers who were sent to crush the Rising, and examines how sentiment in Ireland changed from hostility to the rebels to support for independence.

He examines the context of the extreme pressure that the then government in London was under due to the “existential threat” facing Britain at the height of the Great War.

The makers of the documentary said: “As a former Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo brings a unique understanding to the proceedings beyond that of other presenters.

“His background gives him a certain insight into the mind-set of the men who decided who lived and who died.”

After losing his seat, Mr Portillo returned to Westminster as an MP in 1999 but left Parliament in 2005. By then he had already begun to develop a prominent second career as a TV presenter.

He has been a weekly guest pundit on the BBC political show This Week, but is perhaps now best known for his various TV series that show him making railway journey trips in Britain, Ireland, mainland Europe and abroad.

In one programme, he travelled by train to Londonderry.

• A News Letter interview with Mr Portillo about the Rising will be published on Saturday

Easter 1916: ‘The Enemy Files’ is produced by Midas Productions, for BBC Northern Ireland. It will be screened at 9pm tonight on BBC One. Viewers in England and Wales will have the chance to see the film in the coming days on BBC Two