Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Irish movies

It’s St. Patrick’s Day again: downtown parades, green felt hats, plastic orange beards, pennywhistle-and-accordion music, and television repeats of The Quiet Man and Darby O’Gill and the Little People. If you want to see Ireland on screen in some other way this year, though, you can check out any of dozens of great Irish films: some bright and sweet, others dark and dramatic, and many little-seen and under-appreciated.

A list of “Irish movies,” of course, could be defined many ways. It could mean the stereotypical “Oirish” films that annoy the Irish themselves – the two mentioned above, for example, or the deeply weird Finian’s Rainbow. It could mean films set somewhere else but shot in Ireland – usually the Wicklow Mountains near us -- for the scenery: Excalibur, Braveheart, Zardoz, Saving Private Ryan, the 2004 version of King Arthur. It could mean US films that use Ireland as a backdrop for American romance (P.S. I Love You, The Matchmaker) or family drama (Da).

You can see comedies about colourful characters in Ireland’s villages (Garage, Waking Ned Devine, War of the Buttons) or its towns (The Van, The Snapper, Once, Circle of Friends, Eat the Peach), dramas set in the country (Dancing at Lughnasa, The Field) and the slums (My Left Foot, Angela’s Ashes, Veronica Guerin, The General). Some modernised old legends (The Secret of Kells, Into the West, The Secret of Roan Inish), while others exposed sad chapters of history (The Magdalene Sisters, Evelyn).

A number of films have focused on Ireland’s rebellion against Britain (Michael Collins, The Informer, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) or “The Troubles” with Northern Ireland (In the Name of the Father, Cal, Omagh, Hunger, Bloody Sunday, The Boxer).

It could mean creations of the Irish film industry, whose films often leave all these stereotypes behind and deal with life in modern urban Ireland (Inside I’m Dancing, Intermission, Once).

Most of the films above were critically praised, although I haven’t seen them all myself. I have seen and particularly recommend the ones below – if you like movies, check out the titles and see if anything appeals to you.

Light meat:

Waking Ned Devine: An elderly man in a remote village wins the lottery and dies of shock. His neighbours conspire to maintain the pretence that he is still alive, so that they can all receive the winnings and divide them among themselves.

The Secret of Roan Inish: An unashamedly mystical and sentimental film by John Sayles, about a young girl in rural Ireland discovering an old legend.

The Commitments: An ambitious young music fan in 1990s Dublin tries to hammer a motley group of musicians into a soul band. Set in the slums of Dublin and with a bittersweet ending, this still makes the light category for its gentle humour. If you liked The Full Monty or Billy Elliot, you’ll probably like this.

Dark meat:

The Wind that Shakes the Barley: A keenly-observed film about young men drawn into the Irish Revolution, showing how early idealism leads to stark choices.

The Informer: John Ford’s 1929 film shows 24 hours in the life of a revolutionary sympathiser, and how a single act of desperation leads to a tragic chain of consequences.

The General: The biography of one of Dublin’s most notorious gangsters, who laughed at the police for years until he ran afoul of the IRA.

Photos top to bottom: The Wind That Shakes the Barley, The Secret of Roan Inish, Waking Ned Devine, The General.

Note: Blogging is more-or-less weekly for the moment due to technical difficulties.


Sean said...

I was honestly suprised at how many of those I've seen. I think the only one I didn't see was the Informant.

Brian Kaller said...


I recommend it -- I love films ffrom that era, and I love John Ford as a director. Some of the film conventions from eight decades ago seem dated today, and some of the accents are off, but it remains a raw and powerful film.

Peaksurfer said...

My late favorite: Waveriders. Saw it at Electric Picnic, got it when it came to Netflix. Especially fine tribute to George Feeth.