Handsome Devil – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: John Butler
Writer: John Butler
Stars: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott
Irish Film has been on a recent high with films like Sing Street, and A Date for Mad Mary; and this looks set to continue with director John Butler’s new film Handsome Devil. Following his debut The Stag, Handsome Devil presents a more nuanced and satisfying coming of age story, set in an Irish boarding school.
After protagonist Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is sent to an all-boys school, where rugby is a religion, and any note of difference is greeted by a sarcastic Kenneth Williams style ‘Oooh’; he resigns himself to a life of solitude. But when he is forced to share a dormitory with new boy Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a rugby star with bee-stung lips who at first appears to be everything Ned isn’t; the two boys slowly find a common interest, and eventually genuine friendship.
This journey is helped along by new English teacher Dan Sherry (the impeccable Andrew Scott), who transforms a class where students could previously plagiarise song lyrics for their homework, without fear of discovery. Encouraging the boys to develop their interest in music, Sherry encourages his class to find their own voices; causing clashes with the ‘rugby or nothing’ views of bully Weasel (Ruairi O’Connor) and homophobic rugby coach Pascal O’Keeffe (Moe Dunford.)
Though the coming of age journey to self-acceptance and friendship has been a well-represented genre, Butler’s film is an unequivocal joy to watch none the less. O’Shea and Galitzine are heartfelt and utterly charming in the central roles, while Scott and Dunford steal the show as the passionate teachers with dramatically opposing views. Even the supporting cast, including Ardal O’Hanlon and Amy Huberman as Ned’s disinterested Father and Stepmother, and Michael McElhatton as the long suffering headmaster, feel like well-rounded characters. Handsome Devil may at times feel too earnest; but the witty script by Butler, and richly coloured cinematography by Cathal Watters, prevent the film from feeling too contrived. Add to this a catchy soundtrack which includes Prefab Sprout, The Housemartins, and Big Star; and it’s hard not to get swept away in this somewhat predictable, but thoroughly satisfying film.