It’s St. Patrick’s Day this Friday, which is 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. So, whether you’re in the mood for romance, inspiration, laughter, or something else entirely, read on to find the perfect Irish movie for you!
5. If you’re feeling romantic: Once
John Carney’s Once follows the Guy (Glen Hansard), a busker trying to make his big break happen and win back his ex-girlfriend, all while falling for the Girl (Markéta Irglová), a young flower seller who becomes his muse. A musical that’s not actually a musical, Once soars thanks to its unusually subtle and nuanced take on the romance genre flick, as well as the refreshingly natural turns by Hansard and Irglová (neither of whom are professionally trained actors). It also doesn’t hurt that that all of Once’s songs – especially Academy Award-winning signature tune “Falling Slowly” – are beautifully written and performed, and capture the mood of each scene perfectly.
4. If 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 their political prisoner status, 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 our capacity for both inhumane behaviour and unfathomable determination.
3. If you feel like being inspired: The Boxer
Director Jim Sheridan has made several noteworthy films about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Of these, The Boxer is probably the least ambitious but also the most accessible: a fairly typical “forbidden love” story given added heft by the strong performances of 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. He also 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, The Boxer isn’t really a match for technical achievements of other Sheridan films like In The Name Of The Father or My Left Foot. However, it gains serious kudos for telling a moving, ultimately hopeful story set in a world most of us can barely comprehend.
2. If you feel like a laugh: The Guard
If I 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 understated script is 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.
1. If you’re craving some popcorn fun: Reign of Fire
Although it’s officially set in post-apocalyptic England, Reign of Fire was actually shot in Ireland. So basically, it amounts to Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey roaming the Wicklow Mountings fighting dragons – I don’t think anything more needs to be said…