In part one of his latest feature, our man Andy takes a look at the best Irish films ever made. From sweeping epics like Micheal Collins to personal stories like My Left Foot. Irish cinema has always provided a rich and varied pool of stories. Storytelling has always been the flagship of Irish folklore and its trip to the silver screen has provided another medium for us to explore. Agree or disagree, let us know your best of the Irish movies. Enjoy
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
The title was taken from the ballad The Wind that Shakes the Barley by 19th century poet Robert Dwyer Joyce about a young man who joins the 1798 rebellion after his true love is killed. The movie tells the fictional story of two County Cork brothers, Damien O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy) and Teddy O’Donovan (Pádraic Delaney), who join the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom. Less epic in scale than Michael Collins, this instead focuses on the boots on the ground more personal story of the two brothers as their differing beliefs start to slowly tear them apart. Directed by Englishman Ken Loach, this adds an extra layer to the film as he doesn’t go down the usual route of simply making it a black and white, good guys vs bad guys movie with young men on both sides becoming nothing more than victims of war. It is a heart-breaking, powerful look at the “troubles” that brilliantly captures all its consequences intended or otherwise. But at its heart it is a personal story anchored by two brilliant performance by the two leads.
Puzzlingly marketed as an Irish version of The Hangover, The Stag is instead a charming, genuinely touching and not to mention hilarious comedy drama. At her wits end with fiancée Fionan’s (Hugh O’Conor) obsessing over every detail of their upcoming nuptials Ruth (Amy Huberman), enlists the help of his best man Davin (Andrew Scott) to take the metro… politan Fionan away for a stag weekend. He is joined by gay couple Kevin and Kevin (Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge) and, against his best efforts, by Ruth’s boorish brother, known as The Machine (Moone Boy’s Peter McDonald). The cast are all excellent with Brian Gleeson’s change from the terrifying Hughie on Love/Hate to mild mannered U2 denier Simon being particularly impressive. The entire cast seem to be playing against type with Scott, best known for playing the menacing Moriarty in the TV series Sherlock, seen here as the walking embodiment of pure heartbreak, particularly during a memorable rendition of the Patrick Kavanagh classic Raglan Road. It’s a funny and touching film that I am sure will become a Irish mainstay for years to come.
The 1996 movie about the establishment of the Irish Free State could have looked very different. Initially set to star fist Kevin Costner, who was replaced by Gabriel Byrne before finally Liam Neeson was cast as the Irish revolutionary. Matt Dillon and Adam Baldwin(Jayne from Firefly) auditioned for the role of Collins confidant Harry Boland. John Turturro turned down the role of Eamon de Valera, most bizarrely of all Tom Cruise was offered the ‘Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ cameo of the Assassin. Instead we thankfully ended up with perhaps the finest Irish movie cast ever assembled. Historically questionable but for pure entertainment it delivers. The film is a mix of political drama and a gangster thriller with brilliant performances from its cast of both sides of the Atlantic(a woefully miscast Julia Roberts aside). Scenes of unflinching violence sit easily alongside scenes of warmth and humour with Neeson equally comfortable sending boys out to assassinate British officers as he is cheekily asking his pursuers “what did ye have for breakfast?”. Undoubtedly the most ambitious Irish film ever made, it is a master class in scale and scope with beautiful sets and a haunting score it remains endlessly watchable.
War of the Buttons
The 1994 Irish drama adventure film is actually based on French novel La Guerre des boutons, by Louis Pergaud. The story, about two rival boys’ gangs in Ireland, the Ballys (middle class), and the Carricks (upper class), was almost never released after a lawsuit from the parents of some of the boys in the movie was filed. The grounds for which was that the boys naked buttocks could be seen in the film, it was eventually dismissed after a line-up of similar… assets proved that the boys could not be identified by their rear ends alone. The film could have easily been used as a platform to describe any number of Irish historical conflicts but thankfully the preachiness is nowhere to be found and the focus remains purely on the young charismatic cast. To this day the the film’s ending still causes debate and has been the source of many an argument. Which one did Marie marry?
The first adaptation of Roddy Doye’s marvellous “Barrytown trilogy” tells a story of working class Dubliners who form a soul band. The film was the blue touch paper that ignited the Irish movie scene. Launching the career of Colm Meaney it also had ripples through the music community as Glen Hansard of The Frames and later would star in the Oscar winning “Once” not to mention being the debut appearance of The Corrs. The soundtrack is still one of the greatest of all time with Andrew Strong – who was incredibly only 16 during filming – belting out motown hits like a seasoned pro. The film’s legacy continues to this day with the highly successful stage show still running productions all over the world. A sequel which would have reunited the band in New York City was often talked about but never came to fruition. This would be the high point of many of the cast’s C.V, with lead actor Robert Arkins who played Jimmy Rabbitte never appearing in another film. But to quote Joey the Lips “Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.”
The second story in Roddy Doyle’s “Barrytown Trilogy” The surname of the Rabbitte family in the book had to be changed to Curley as 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the Rabbitte name from The Commitments (1991), which featured the same characters. The story itself is beautifully simple, Sharon Curley gets pregnant and won’t tell anyone who the father is other than it’s a “Spanish sailor” and the family do their best to adapt to the incoming new addition. What sets this movie apart is the human highlight reel Dessie Curley played by Colm Meaney. Endlessly quotable, he peppers the film with a lifetime’s supply of memorable scenes from threating his neighbour with a set of garden sheers to casual brilliance. The film has seeped into Irish culture in a way perhaps no other film on this list has. Every girl in Ireland who got pregnant after 1993 has had some variation of “7 pounds 12 ounces” “Small turkey” or “Georgey f**king Burgess” said to her during her pregnancy.