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The Banshees of Inisherin – Film Review

The Banshees of Iniserin – Film Review
by Frank L.

Director – Martin McDonagh
Writer – Martin McDonagh
Stars – Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon

In 2008, McDonagh cast Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in “In Bruges”. He now reunites them on an imagined island, Iniserin, which is somewhere off the west coast of Ireland. The filming took place on Inismore and Achill Island and the story takes place in a small community in this beautiful but unforgiving landscape. In addition, the time is that of the civil war, 100 years ago.

Padraic (Colin Farrell) is a not overly-bright young man and is content with the routine of his life which consists primarily, apart from his subsistence farming, of picking up his older friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) at 2 o’clock each day and going to the local pub for a couple of pints. Padraic lives with his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), their cattle and his adored miniature donkey who is more of a pet than a farm animal.

The story begins when the routine is broken by Colm, for no reason that Padraic can fathom, making clear that he does not want to waste his time any more speaking with Padraic. He even refuses to allow Padraic to sit near him in the pub. Colm has a musical streak in him and he wants to spend his time working on his musical talents and not wasting his time on conversations with the dim-witted Padraic about the contents of his pony/donkey defecations. The split between them is irrevocable and Colm makes clear any attempt to patch things up will lead to violent consequences. Colm’s threats are no mere banter. Here in microcosm is the fracturing of a friendship which is replicated throughout the land in the civil war which McDonagh reminds you is taking place as an occasional explosion can be heard in the background.

Siobhan who wishes to become a teacher is distraught for her brother about the fracturing of the friendship and wants it restored. Dominic Kearney (Barry Keogan) who has unrealistic ambitions as regards Siobhan is not impressed by the behaviour of Colm. Nor is he impressed by the behaviour of his father the local guard Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon) or of his habit of masturbating naked in an armchair. The parish priest (David Pearse) also takes a dim view of the behaviour of Colm. There is a local bearer of doom in the shape of one Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton) and of gossip Mrs Reardon (Brid ni Neachtain) who provide background colour and depth to the world inhabited by Colm and Padraic.

The film is a visual treat with magnificent sweeping views with the scenes of the village harbour reminiscent of a painting by Sean Keating. This is an idyllic place. Therefore the scenes of self-inflicted violence which take place seem all the more incomprehensible. Farrell manages to make Padraic for all his dimness a character of charm whom you cannot but like. That is no mean feat given his lack of spark. Gleeson creates a complex man out of Colm who one must respect for his determination to follow his art even if one has grave reservations about the methods he employs to make the time to create the space. Keogan has a directness in his naivety which makes Dominic a youth who is both gauche and yet has feral wisdom. Condon remains loyal to her brother Padraic notwithstanding his many inadequacies and is a symbol of sense in this far-from-rational society.  McDonagh has created a rich tableau of characters with moments of high comedy interspersed with a unique act of self-harm. Each member of the cast makes their character an individual of substance in this unsettling story.

At the centre of the story is the tragedy of a long friendship broken. Like most such fractures the reasoning is not easy to comprehend. When it happens in a small community the tragedy is great. If it happens in a nation as small as Ireland it is a national tragedy. This is both a beautiful and a complex film. It is timely as the centenary of the Irish civil war is currently taking place.

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