As I was thinking about what I wanted to write for Saint Patrick’s Day, my internet searches kept bringing me back to the compelling Irish offerings that have been making the film festival circuit in recent months. The signs were there so I had no choice but to share some Emerald Isle film magic and highlight the actors to look out for in these productions.
Each of these films has multiple nominations for the 2014 Irish Film and Television Academy Awards. But if you’re expecting tales of The Troubles, famine or leprechauns among this list, think again. I’ve gathered a variety of intriguing stories that I wager feature a fair bit of masterful acting.
Run & Jump. When 38-year-old Connor Casey (Edward MacLiam) suffers a personality altering stroke, an American research psychologist named Ted Fielding (Will Forte) is dispatched to the Casey home to study his condition. Connor’s strong, spirited wife, Vanetia (Maxine Peake) struggles with the new family dynamic and turns to Ted for comfort and normalcy.
While the male and female leads are not Irish actors, many of the supporting cast are and MacLiam has earned some notice for his portrayal of the detached and unpredictable Connor. Run & Jump was filmed on location in County Wicklow and County Kerry so there’s bound to be some lovely landscapes as well. And lucky us, if you’d like to watch it on Saint Paddy’s Day, it’s available to stream on Amazon Instant Video.
Calvary. Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest who often finds himself disheartened by the unkind and contentious nature of his parishioners. After Lavelle receives a death threat while hearing a confession, “the forces of darkness begin to close in on him.”
The cast on this film is a phenomenal collection of talent. From the almost required presence of a member of the Gleeson acting dynasty (Brendan) to IT Crowd and Moone Boy’s Chris O’Dowd, Black Books’ Dylan Moran, and two members of the Irish crime drama Love/Hate, Aidan Gillen and Killian Scott, it’s an excellent sampling of the current Irish acting pool.
Calvary debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this January and opens in the UK and Ireland in April. American audiences won’t get the opportunity to see it until August 2014, but it looks like this black comedy/drama will be well worth the wait.
The Stag. Metrosexual groom Fionnan (Hugh O’Connor) is persuaded by his bride-to-be, Ruth (Amy Huberman) to go on a stag weekend before their wedding. This probably would have worked out fine since Fionnan’s friends are fairly cultured young men as well. When another condition is imposed by Ruth, the inclusion of her alpha male brother known only as The Machine, the situation takes a decidedly concerning turn. A weekend in the Irish wilderness plus a volatile macho man is surely a recipe for hilarious chaos.
There are some familiar faces in this film, namely Andrew Scott who you may recognize as Sherlock’s Moriarty; the obligatory Gleeson (Brian, this time); and Peter McDonald (Moone Boy) as the unstoppable Machine. Filmed in Galway, Dublin and Wicklow, this is an Irish production through and through. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a way to watch this comedy at the present time as it’s just been released a week ago in the UK and Ireland.
The Sea. Based on a Man Booker award winning novel by Irish author John Banville, The Sea is a haunting story about Max, a grieving widower, who returns to the seaside where he spent his summer holidays as a child.
The cast is not entirely from Ireland, but the Emerald Isle is well represented by Ciaran Hinds as Max and Sinead Cusack as his wife Ann. Filmed in County Wexford, this atmospheric film debuted in North America at the Toronto Film festival. But since it’s not officially opening in Ireland and the UK until April, The Sea may not appear in your local art house theatre until the end of the year.
Life’s a Breeze. Fionnula Flanagan stars in this comedy about a hoarding Dublin grandmother whose family decides to remodel her cluttered flat as a birthday surprise. Unfortunately they don’t realize that Nan has squirreled away a fortune in her grubby old mattress which they have unceremoniously dumped in the process of the clean out.
The rest of the story focuses on the retrieval of Nan’s riches. This treasure hunt is complicated further by a race against strangers who’ve heard about the mattress fortune and are on the hunt to claim it for themselves.
Life’s a Breeze was released across the pond last year. While there’s no sign of an American release yet, we can keep our fingers crossed that this charming family farce will show up on Netflix or on DVD eventually, particularly because Flanagan and newcomer Kelly Thornton have been nominated for IFTAs.
I hope this list has piqued your interest in films emanating from Ireland these days. Is there a title that you find particularly interesting? Do you have a favorite Irish film or actor? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.