Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Irish quartet

I have done threads on London and Paris (see labels) but how about Dublin in the 1960s? Look, there's Agnes Browne selling her fruit at her market stall, over there gay bus conductor Albert Byrne is entertaining his passengers -  while Edna O'Brien's country girls Kate and Baba (GIRL WITH GREEN EYES) are having a great time and looking for romance. A 1930s Ireland is also conjured up in the film THE FIELD - and of course the film of that great play DANCING AT LUGHNASA where Meryl Streep leads a great ensemble. Let's look at a few of these.  At least THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES (Ireland label) was made in the '60s and has that real Dublin vibe - there is something skewered in those colorful '90s recreations .... (also in the '60s films like YOUNG CASSIDY, ULYSSES, LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS, SINFUL DAVEY were filmed there, as well as 1959's SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL ... also in the '60s RYAN'S DAUGHTER in Kerry and my favourite I WAS HAPPY HERE in Clare.)

Anjelica Huston's AGNES BROWNE (1999) is an earlier incarnation of Brendan O'Carroll's series MRS BROWNE'S BOYS and his book "The Mammy". It is not really a realistic picture of a Dublin widow bringing up 7 children in the 1960s. The comic tone is set from the start as Mrs Browne and her friend arrive at the benefits office to claim her widow's pension. The harrassed assistant asks her when her husband died, to which Agnes replies "ten past four" - that day, she has not even got the death certificate yet! She therefore has to go to the local loan shark - a younger Ray Winstone with a dreadful accent - for ready cash. Then there is the funeral mix up with several coffins arriving at the same time and they are at the wrong graveside!
Agnes though copes well, she does not seem bothered by the loss of her husband, she and her best friend Marion (Marion O'Dwyer) cope with life's ups and downs, out drinking on a Friday night, and they have a day at the seaside but then Marion too is taken from her by cancer .... but there is that French baker who has eyes for Agnes and you just know it will all end ok for her, as her kids run riot at the swanky Gresham Hotel and one of them falls foul of the loan shark, but they club together to buy her that blue dress for her first date with the French guy - and then Tom Jones pops up as himself (this in 1999) and saves the day too as we end with Agnes and her brood watching him as his 1967 self  in concert [its Cliff Richard in the book!]. 

Angelica (marvellous is so many things from THE GRIFTERS to her father's THE DEAD - another great Irisih film) directs all this with a sure touch - she of course spent a lot of time in Ireland growing up partly at her father's pile in Galway - but she is perhaps a tad too glamorous for a harrassed mother of seven? Author Brendan O'Carroll (who plays Mrs Browne in his successful tv series) pops up too in various moments as the local drunk. So really I suppose it is great fun really but don't expect realism.

It's back to 1963 Dublin for Albert Finney's turn - as the blurb says:
"A touching and gentle tale of self-discovery and expression, A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (1994) features a stellar cast of British acting talent.

Dublin 1963. Middle-aged bus conductor Alfred Byrne passes the day cheerily entertaining his passengers with passionate recitals of Oscar Wilde's poetry. However, Alfred is secretely living a desperately unhappy life - he's gay, deeply closeted and in love with his colleague, bus driver Robbie (Rufus Sewell) whom he adores from a distance.

When he meets an enchanting young passenger Adele (Tara Fitzgerald) Alfie is inspired to mount a production of Wilde's SALOME with Adele as the lead. With the rest of the cast filled out by his regulars, including a gruff butcher (Michael Gambon), he sets out to produce Wilde's controversial play - but not everyone is pleased with the choice. With production woes piling on, Alfie is forced to overcome his fears and be happy with who he is".
Albert (TOM JONES in 1963) goes at it full tilt - like David Hemmings he is an actor with surely no vanity at all - he is good at playing this man who is desperate to create beautiful things in a grey, humdrum world which just doesn't understand him. But there is something inherently comic in this drama as Michael Gambon and Brenda Fricker comically play those bigots who conspire against him - the scene when they try to break into his locked room is a scream. She as his sister does not like the spaghetti he cooks for her and she is worred where his hands have been - Albie's problem is that they have not been anywhere! In desperation, after he visits Adele's room and finds her in the throes of passion, he gets dressed up as Oscar Wilde with a green carnation to visit a gay bar where the guy he picks up leads him into an ambush, as the police are called. David Kelly (RIP label) is good too as his only friend; the great Anna Manahan (ME MAMMY and Mrs Ceadogan in THE IRISH R.M. and THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE) is one of the bus passengers. It all ends on a rather fairytale note as the bigots are defeated, his bus passengers stand by him, as does Rufus Sewell as the driver who likes him. It should be an engrossing drama but again, as in AGNES BROWNE, the comedy elements make it all rather risible. Directed by one Suri Krishnamma and written by Barry Devlin. Certainly an oddity then ... [famously hetero Finney (romanced Audrey, married Anouk Aimee, etc) does not disgrace himself here - unllike Burton and Harrison in the awful STAIRCASE, 1969].

Back presumably to the 1930s for THE FIELD - Jim Sheridan's 1990 film of John B. Keane's play. I have to declare an interest here, as John B Keane is from my home town in Kerry, and his family still run his famous pub. I was drinking there last year. I and my family knew him, as we did that other well known Irish writer Bryan McMahon. THE FIELD is a gripping drama but again for me something odd happens - it just seems to go way over the top so eventually the grim storyline becomes almost funny, like something out of Monty Python - as the misery piles on. By the climax when the cattle go over the cliff and the Lear-like Bull McCabe (Richard Harris) seems to have gone mad, one is almost laughing.

The cast again go at it full tilt: Brenda Fricker (again) as the almost silent wife, John Hurt as the village idiot type (think John Mills in RYAN'S DAUGHTER), Sean Bean, Frances Tomelty as the widow who wants to sell the field, which McCabe has nourished for years - and Tom Berenger as the visiting Yank who wants to buy it - leading to if not Greek Tragedy then Irish Tragedy all round ....again the blurb says: "Bull" McCabe's family has farmed a field for generations, sacrificing endlessly for the sake of the land. And when the widow who owns the field decides to sell the field in a public auction, McCabe knows that he must own it. But while no one in the village would dare bid against him, an American with deep pockets decides that he needs the field to build a highway. The Bull and his son decide to convince the American to give up bidding on the field, but things go horribly wrong".  This is a look at a more vicious reality of the rural Ireland behind the whimsy of THE QUIET MAN.

Here's an odd one, THE LAST SEPTEMBER, a 1999 film which I had never heard of, it can't have played in London and one can see why - directed by stage director Deborah Warner, hence a fatal lack of pace: talk of languid, langorous tedium set in a long summer in 1920 in County Cork on one of those Anglo-Irish estates which seems to have seen better days. Presided over by Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith with their niece Lois (Keeley Hawes) and visiting guests including Fiona Shaw and Jane Birkin - an odd choice here.  
During those long scenes when nothing seems to be happening one remembers how more animated Smith and Gambon were in GOSFORD PARK and that Smith and Birkin were both much more fun in EVIL UNDER THE SUN ... Pre-DR WHO David Tennant is the army officer in love with Lois who is drawn to and sheltering a rebel hiding in the old mill who has killed a black-and-tan made to kneel naked before him - and now Tennant too is exploring the old mill as another shot rings out ... Its all from an Elizabeth Bowen novel, rather like a William Trevor story, and the politics of the time will be difficult to comprehend for those unfamiliar with history - no laughs here though.


  1. Irish life is surely a mixture of comedy and drama - they seem to co-exist side by side. Even the great plays like 'Playboy of the Western World' or 'Juno and the Paycock' have laughs and humour among the drama and tears. Great post.

  2. AGNES BROWNE looks good to watch.

  3. O'Carroll's book The Mammy is a comedy with very broad humour, so the film was not going to be a realistic view of her situation or the time. It must have been a labour of love for Anjelica.