‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

Layered, nuanced, full of symbolism and blackly funny, The Banshees of Inisherin is Irish to its core as two life-long friends abruptly cease to be friends.

An island off the coast of Ireland as the 1923 civil war maps its course. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Widows), as is the norm, calls upon Colm (Brendan Gleeson – Calvary, The Guard) on the way to the pub. But Colm, a musician, has decided he no longer wants to spend his time on small talk with Pádraic.

It’s a narrative as simple as that from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as the fallout from the change to routine in the isolated community has massive repercussions. Regulars at the pub are bemused, Pádraic’s lonely sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon –Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dreamland) struggles to come to terms with a lost, aimless brother – and the not-so-bright Pádraic himself fails to understand or heed the warnings. Who else, afterall, can he talk to for two hours about the contents of his pony’s shite?

The stunning, unspoilt sweep of the west coast adds to the emotional depth of this quiet yet deeply cutting, mordantly funny feature as the very cost of friendship is explored.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2023 including best film, director, actor, supporting actress, supporting actor, original screenplay.

Rating: 80%

‘The Quiet Girl’

An exquisite porcelain keepsake of a feature, The Quiet Girl is gentle yet suffused with grief and menace as a quiet young girl stays with the childless farming couple over the summer.

With her mother expecting another child and not coping at home, the neglected Cáit (newcomer Catherine Clinch) is packed off to stay with cousins Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley – TV’s Fair City, Smother) and Seán (Andrew Bennett – Dating Amber, This Is My Father), a three hour drive away into deepest rural Ireland. Initially confused and uncertain, Cáit slowly settles into the quiet routine of the working farm.

Performed almost exclusively in Gaelic, The Quiet Girl is sensitive and deeply moving as documentary filmmaker Colm Bairéad, refusing to up the pace in a slow unravelling of its narrative, creates an expectant air of stillness and restraint.

Nominated for 2023 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 80%

‘Here Are the Young Men’

A youth culture oddity as Dublin teenagers leave school with little in terms of qualifications or possibilities and find themselves in a mindless spiral of drink, drugs and boredom.

Interweaving social realism with game-show fantasies, writer/director Eoin Macken (The Leopard, Dreaming For You) comments on the darker side of human nature as the rebellious nihilist Kearney (Finn Cole – TV’s Animal Kingdom, Peaky Blinders) influences best mates Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman – 1917, TV’s The Game of Thrones) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo – Sing Street, CODA).

A potentially powerful coming-of-age narrative is undermined by a lack of focus and certainty in its telling as plotlines drift off into surreal. Hard-hitting it may purport to be (and that’s certainly true at times as alcoholism, substance abuse, sexual abuse, vandalism and suicide all prominently feature), but even the stabilising influence of Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy – The Northman, TV’s The Queen’s Gambit) on Matthew cannot prevent a dislocation in its telling with too much condensed into an, at times, overly contrived Trainspotting-like story.

Rating: 46%

‘The Commitments’

A feelgood celebration of working class Dublin, the adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel is a paen to the music of the soul.

Wheeler and dealer Jimmy Rabbite (Robert Arkins – The Comeback) auditions locals as he looks to set up a soul band. Centred around the stunning Joe Cocker-like voice of the arrogant Deco (Andrew Strong), a bus conductor by day, The Commitments take Dublin’s pub scene by storm. But relationships within the 10-piece band make for a hard slog.

With an emphasis on the music of the likes of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding and the rowdy live gigs, The Commitments is a soulful experience littered with expletives and laugh-out-loud humour. Director Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning) choses to keep it simple and offer an infectious good time as we experience the highs and lows of the ten as Rabbite supports, pushes, cajoles the world around them.

Nominated for the best editing Oscar in 1992.

Rating: 77%

‘Dating Amber’

A charming coming-of-age story as two gay teenagers decide on a straight relationship in order to stop the rumours and bullying at school.

A feisty Amber (Lola Petticrew – A Bump Along the Way, Wolf) is no shrinking violet as she calls the shots at the village school a few miles outside Dublin. And she has a few words of advice to the fearful and closeted Eddie (Fionn O’Shea – Handsome Devil, Cherry), an eldest son expected to follow his dad (Barry Ward – TV’s White Lines, Des) into the army.

Director David Freyne’s (The Cured) gentle exploration of coming out in Ireland in the 90s is set a couple of years after legalisation. It runs out of steam towards the end, but Dating Amber is an engaging if slight (and predictable) narrative buoyed by excellent performances from both Petticrew and O’Shea.

Rating: 61%

‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

Pleasant, undemanding romantic drama surprisingly underachieving considering it’s pedigree.

Adapted from his own play (Outside Mullingar), director John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Joe Versus the Volcano) pits Irish farmholders in a dispute over a small tract of land. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt – Sicario, A Quiet Place) refuses to sell as the neighbouring Reilly property seems to be heading for an American (Jon Hamm – Baby Driver, TV’s Mad Men)) purchase. She is looking to the only Reilly son, Anthony (Jamie Dornan – Belfast, TV’s The Tourist) not only to inherit but take a more romantic interest in his willing neighbour.

Dialogue-heavy, Wild Mountain Thyme emphasises its early beginnings with some enjoyable (albeit occasional) wry humour but it’s also somewhat underwhelming. Lots of shots of a verdant Irish countryside but a lethargic pace creates certain charm but which soon tests the patience.

Rating: 47%

‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’

Unquestionably partisan – you’d expect nothing less from director Ken Loach (I Daniel Blake, Kes)- the Palme d’or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley looks to the 1920s Irish War of Independence and the impact it has on two brothers.

It’s a sombre telling as would-be doctor, Damien (Cillian Murphy – 28 Days Later, Inception), cancels plans to to travel to England as conflict between the British security forces and Irish Unionists escalates. Winessing constant violent abuse in rural settings, he joins the local IRA brigade, commanded by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney – Blackthorn, The Man Who Knew Infinity). But each has different expectations of the best outcome.

It’s easy to know what you are against, but quite another to know what you are for.

Deftly handled (script by longtime Loach collaborator Paul Laverty – I Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You), it’s an intimate, humane telling of huge events, of ideals that pitch country against country, community against community, brother against brother.

Rating: 78%

‘Mary Shelley’

mary shelleyThe extraordinary love affair between Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Byshe Shelley and the resulting penning of Frankenstein is manna from heaven for storytelling.

But the clunky treatment by director Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda, Women Without Shadows) and a cast guilty of overacting (Bel Powley – A Royal Night Out, Diary of a Teenage Girl – as Mary’s stepsister, Gail, in particular) undermines the story and the quiet performances of Elle Fanning (The Beguiled, Maleficent) and Stephen Dillane (Darkest Hour, Welcome to Sarajevo) as her father.

Engaging as a story but sadly, as a film, a misfire.

Rating: 47%

‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

4AsH9jqVsmbsc3RKWj3FwK6gG8dIf you thought director Yorgos Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster was odd and more than a little confronting, wait for this, his latest truly absurdist feature.

Surgeon Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice, the result of a mistake on the operating table. Looking for justice (or revenge), young Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, ’71) inveigles his way into the doctor’s privileged family, where Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Lion) is more than a little suspicious.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is magnificently and beguilingly uncomfortable, delivery of dialogue flat and emotionless (a Lanthimos trademark), pointed jet-black humour off-kilter, domestic horror and violence taken to an extreme. It’s a harrowing experience (the entire auditorium emptied in silence) yet strangely and unaccountably rewarding.

Rating: 70%

‘Sing Street’

sing_streetDelightful, feel-good and totally endearing, the latest from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) yet again presents the good in both character and narrative (and provides a ripper of a soundtrack).

A nostalgic revisit to the 80s with a story that, whilst hardly innovative (new boy at school overcomes bullying, wins the girl and gains popularity), uses music to flesh out its tale. Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a convincing innocent discovering his inner Duran Duran or The Cure – and the relationship with his music mentor brother Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Free Fire) adds an extra layer of oddball warmth.

Rating: 69%