It’s St. Patrick’s Day this Friday, which provides us with a great excuse to take a look at some of the finest films to ever come out of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
While this list is by no means exhaustive (I could – and almost certainly will – do a follow-up list next year!), what is does have going for it is that, regardless of how you’re feeling, it’s got you covered.
So whether you’re in the mood for romance, confrontation, inspiration, laughter or dragons (totally a thing), read on to find the perfect Irish movie for you!
FOR WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR ROMANCE: ONCE
Once doesn’t have the most high-stakes or even original plot, with John Carney’s film following the attempts by the Guy (Glen Hansard), a busker, to make his big break and win back his ex-girlfriend, even as he begins to fall for the Girl (Markéta Irglová), a young flower seller who becomes his muse.
A musical without actually BEING a musical, Once soars thanks to its unusually subtle and nuanced take on the romance genre flick, as well as to the refreshingly natural turns by Hansard and Irglová (neither of whom are professionally trained actors).
It also doesn’t hurt that that all of the movie’s songs – particularly Academy Award-winning signature tune “Falling Slowly” – are incredibly well-written and performed, capturing the mood of each scene perfectly.
FOR WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE BEING CHALLENGED: HUNGER
Hunger starts with a close-up shot of faeces being smeared on a prison cell wall, which should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from director Steve McQueen’s feature film debut.
Set during the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike, when prisoners from the IRA – led by Michael Fassbender’s Bobby Sands – refused food in an effort to regain the political prisoner status which had been stripped from them by the British Government, the film makes for pretty harrowing viewing.
Inescapably political and yet remarkably even-handed, Hunger manages to humanise characters on both side of the struggle, even as it asks the audience to consider man’s capacity both for inhumane behaviour and unfathomable determination.
FOR WHEN YOU WANT TO BE INSPIRED: THE BOXER
Director Jim Sheridan has made several noteworthy films about the conflict in Northern Ireland, and of these, The Boxer is probably the least impressive; a fairly typical “forbidden love” story given added heft thanks to the strong performances by its cast – particularly the always-phenomenal Daniel Day-Lewis – and a handful of genuinely moving, uplifting scenes.
Day-Lewis stars as Danny Flynn, a former boxer and Provisional IRA soldier who has recently returned to Belfast after over a decade in prison. Eager to put his violent past behind him, Danny establishes a non-sectarian boxing club for local boys, and begins to rekindle his romance with his former girlfriend, Maggie (Emily Watson), who is married to another IRA member still serving time. Both of these actions will put him at odds with powerful IRA figure Harry (Brian Cox), drawing Danny back into a world he is so desperate to break free of.
Like I said earlier, The Boxer isn’t really a match for other Sheridan films like In The Name Of The Father or My Left Foot, however it gains serious kudos for putting a relatable and hopeful spin on a time and place that those of us not raised in Belfast can barely comprehend, and for reminding us – most notably during a haunting rendition of “Oh Danny Boy” – of the terrible cost in human lives paid by both sides as result of these hostilities.
FOR WHEN YOU COULD USE A LAUGH: THE GUARD
If you were to pull together a list of the best dark comedies of the last 10 years, The Guard would surely be somewhere near the top.
John Michael McDonagh’s pitch black outing introduces us to Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), a vice-riddled yet principled member of the Irish police force, who finds himself teamed up with FBI Special Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to root out a vicious gang of drug traffickers before they can get their hands on a massive shipment of cocaine.
McDonagh’s script is understated and razor sharp, Gleeson and Cheadle are both on sparkling form, and Larry Smith’s cinematography beautifully captures the western Ireland countryside, making The Guard “buddy cop” flick of rare quality (oh, and just wait for the ending!).
FOR WHEN YOU NEED MORE DRAGONS IN YOUR LIFE: REIGN OF FIRE
Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey fight dragons in post-Apocalyptic England (actually filmed in Ireland) – I don’t think anything more needs to be said…