Joe Duffy, Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin and more reveal their favourite Irish movies
Ireland is already taking Hollywood by storm ahead of tomorrow night’s Oscars. Barry Egan asks well known figures on this side of the Atlantic, what’s your favourite Irish movie?
Brendan Gleeson, who is up for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar tomorrow night, features in four of Bob Geldof’s all-time favourite Irish films – however, his number one is 1982 rural drama, The Ballroom of Romance. At number two is The Banshees of Inisherin, while The Guard, The General and In Bruges all get a mention.
Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats singer)
The most surprising entry is Darby O’Gill and The Little People, a 1959 movie about a storyteller seeking a pot of gold. “It’s Disney starring Sean Connery,” Geldof argues.
And Mise Éire from the late 1950s?
“Mise Eire was an early black-and- white documentary in Irish that we all had to watch in school. I have a vivid memory of its social realism/mawkish aul’ sod nationalism. It stirred me though,” said The Boomtown Rats singer.
“The Ballroom of Romance was full of that empty, sad despair and hopelessness that is in the character, as evidenced in drink, music, Catholicism, desperate pursuit of ‘the craic’ and dangerously overwrought politics. At least back then so it seemed to me.
“It also of course leads to a heightened appreciation of the absurd. It was beautifully and accurately filmed, acted and directed. I thought… ‘Exactly!’ The same themes are as brilliantly examined in the fantastic Banshees film.”
Jim Sheridan (Oscar-nominated director)
Jim Sheridan is director of such classics as The Field,In The Name of The Father and My Left Foot – but Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game is his favourite Irish film of all-time.
“I loveThe Crying Game because of its wicked complex structure managing to walk the tightrope between identity politics, Hitchcock thriller, romantic love story, LGBT before there was LGBT, and a story of race.
"It has a kind of dreamlike quality and it pays to watch it more than once, which you cannot say for many movies.
"But I love it more for its humanity and Stephen Rea’s performance. And the performance of a non-actor, Jaye Davidson, in the female role.
"Neil combines a great visual knowledge with a novelist’s depth of character and plot. He was an inspiration to every Irish director who came after him – including me.”
Dearbhla Walsh (Director of Bad Sisters)
“My favourite Irish movie of all time is Garage, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Mark O’Halloran. The casting of Pat Shortt was an act of mad genius and his performance was a touching revelation.
"Everything about that movie – its setting, its community, its loneliness and its unsentimental poetry – reminded me of the endless days I spent at my grandparents in Glenamaddy, Co Galway."
Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael)
“I loved The Dead. My Left Foot is a classic too. Michael Collins is a great movie: I loved it, though it’s incomplete as a historical portrayal of Collins. Where is Collins the diary writer, the finance minister, the Treaty negotiator? The Treaty is a better portrayal.
“I saw An Cailín Ciúinin the Savoy on Saturday. I thought it was great. A touching story. Beautiful photography. Fabulous acting, especially Carrie Crowley. I really hope it wins Best International Feature Film.
"I saw Aftersun too. Good movie. Paul Mescal played the part really well but he’s up against a lot of competition.”
Who would he like to play him in a movie if one was ever made: Colin Farrell or Paul Mescal? “I would be flattered to be played by either. I have no desire to have a film made about me though…”
Philomena Lee (Inspiration for the 2013 film Philomena)
“My favourite is The Quiet Man. I saw it many times and liked it because there was lots of fun and laughter in it. I also thought that Maureen O’Hara was lovely in it.”
Pat Shortt (Actor)
“I Went Down was a great film. I really loved that. Brendan Gleeson and the whole cast were f**king amazing. I remember myself and Jon Kenny were performing in New York at the same time they were launching the movie there. They came to our show and we all went on the piss afterwards.
"I remember saying to Conor McPherson, ‘Did you write this? That’s f**king incredible’. It was my first experience of Irish film. I didn’t know much about Irish film. I was only about 20, 21.
I know My Left Foothad gone before but with this film it was my generation.”
What about the Oscars and The Banshees of Inisherin?
“I would put money on Kerry Condon winning an Oscar on Sunday night because she brought theatre to the screen. I think that shines through to the world. I think that’s why she won the Bafta, because they acknowledged the talent that she has.
“Barry Keoghan and Brendan Gleeson both nominated as Best Supporting Actor – that is splitting up the vote with the Oscars. I don’t see them getting it, though they deserve it. But I would be shocked if Martin didn’t win Best Original Screenplay.”
Micheál Martin (Tánaiste and leader of Fianna Fáil)
“At the moment we are going through an incredible period in Irish film. We have always had gems – My Left Foot, In The Name of The Father, Brooklyn, The Commitments, The Field, Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes The Barley and many more.
“To me, for the greatest Irish film ever, it came down to a choice between My Left Foot andThe Field. The Field is the one that I would turn to all the time. I think it is the psychology of the movie.
“It gets deep into the Irish psyche and its attachment to land. It is a personal as well as a national thing. As the old 19th-century political mantra around the Land League era went, ‘The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland’.
“It’s just visceral. I was very taken by Richard Harris’s performance. When he says ‘I made this field with my bare hands with my father and no-one is going to get it’, it is very basic. It is very fundamentalist, in some respect.
“It evoked a whole lot of thoughts and feelings, not least the characters in the rural Irish village. It reveals some of our inner psyche in some respects and where we sprang from as a nation.
"That thing in The Field about the land and water seem to be in the Irish psyche. And if you look at all the water charge debates we’ve had over the years – and the rows – it goes back to something that is deeply engrained. I don’t know if it is the Famine where that comes from.”
As a Corkman, what did he think of the movie Michael Collins?
“I thought the first half of the movie was great. The historical inaccuracies were too much for me. The treatment of De Valera was wildly inaccurate or unfair.”
Joe Duffy (Broadcaster)
“I have a special affection for one of the first Irish movies to herald the birth of Irish social realism filmmaking. A year before Jim Sheridan’s wonderful My Left Foot, in 1988 two friends of mine, Joe Lee and the late Frank Deasy released their gritty Dublin drugs film The Courier.
Watching the amount of blood, sweat, tears and creativity the two lads put into their first movie was astonishing.
“I am biased, having appeared in Mrs Brown’s Boys: D’Movie. I was brutal playing myself, by the way, but I still think the opening sequence featuring a large group of Moore Street traders, led by Brendan O’Carroll and June Rogers, as they dance their way to the now defunct Dublin Fruit and Vegetable Market to the wonderful music of The Script, is truly uplifting and memorable.”
Kathleen Watkins (Author)
“I loved The Quiet Man, and the great Maureen O’Hara. I also loved My Left Foot, the Christy Brown story. I remember when Brenda Fricker won the Oscar – the first woman to do so for Ireland.
"Gay [Byrne] and I were at Christy’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. I remember we were all outside in the grounds of Sutton Castle hotel.”
Oliver Callan (Comedian)
“This is an easy pick for me because it happens to be the first ever film I saw in a cinema. Despite being absolutely obsessed with film as a child, I was all of 12 years old by the time of my first visit to the big screen, the Adelphi in Dundalk for Into the West.
“It was arranged by the parish priest as a thank you for those of us who had done our mandatory service as altar boys for daytime masses from school, so I’ll never say the Catholic Church did nothing for me. It’s a powerful memory I have.
“The Adelphi was an old school, red velvet walls, creaky stairs and ticket-tearing ushers and flashlight-to-your-seats sort of place. It smelled of freshly cracked hot popcorn and ancient carpets. I was so lucky Into the West was my cherry-popping picture because it’s so dreamy and gorgeous.
"I distinctly remember a scene where David Kelly is sitting by a spitting fire on the beach and how cinema captured the scale and magnificence of the natural setting quite like nothing I’d experienced on a TV.
“Gabriel Byrne is fantastic in it and the film contains all the great Irish fellas of film - Brendan Gleeson, Colm Meaney, John Kavanagh and Kelly but it’s the kids who steal the show. Everyone who thinks of it immediately shouts “Tito!”, commonly mispronounced as “Tayto”.
"I saw it again on St Patrick’s Day during lockdown and was swept up in the adventure again, thrilled that it has not aged a smidge since 1992. It’s a road movie with a white horse and has all that lovely imagery around Tír na nÓg and Traveller mysticism. Just a perfect, iconic, Irish film.”
Kate O’Toole (Actress – The Dead)
“As regards having a favourite Irish film, it’s hard to beat Man of Aran. For me, The Quiet Girl is a more delicate and nuanced film than The Quiet Man, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Both films have their own merits in their very different ways of telling a story.
“I’ll have my fingers firmly crossed for An Cailín Ciúin at the Oscars but it’s in a category with some fierce competition.
“As for The Banshees of Inisherin, I haven’t looked up the odds for the Oscars this year, but if recent film festival results are anything to go by, it might not do as well as its publicity campaign would have one believe. A couple of dark horses in the race could pip them at the post.”
Jared Harris (Actor – Chernobyl)
“I don’t think there’s going to be an Irish sweep at the Oscars,” Harris says. “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once will probably win best picture, best actress. Brendan Fraser will win best actor (for The Whale), although I think Colin had a much greater degree of difficulty.
“Like diving, or gymnastics, I think performance awards should have a modifier for degree of difficulty for the role. A lot of Brendan’s work was done for him by the script and the weight gain; which has always been one of the three Oscar catnips.
“Colin’s was much trickier. He was playing someone who was dull, but he couldn’t be so successfully dull that you tuned him out. Very tricky to negotiate. He did it brilliantly.
“Personally I think Tom Cruise should’ve won it. The man learnt how to fly a fighter jet for a role. If that’s not method, then what is?”
Gerry Stembridge (Screenwriter of Ordinary Decent Criminal and director of About Adam)
“My favourite Irish film is The Butcher Boy. The book has a brilliant voice of its own and [Neil] Jordan somehow found a way to express it in film. Eamonn Owens’ performance is heart-stopping.
“When I was a kid my mother instructed my older brother to bring me to Darby O’Gill and the Little People. He was meeting his friends and they had other plans. Instead I was brought to... Dracula with Christopher Lee. Seven-year-old me loved it and it may have helped shape my taste in film forever: always more Hammer Horror than diddly-eye.”
Andrew Strong (Singer and star of The Commitments)
“One of my favourites would be The Butcher Boy: a great film, and great cast. Neil Jordan is one of my favourite Irish directors. I love all his movies. Himself and Patrick McCabe, the writer, are a great collaboration, as both have a common thread of darkness throughout their body of work. Eamonn Owens’ performance was fantastic.”
“It has to be My Left Foot. It is the movie that has stayed with me more than any other. I remember my dad allowing us to stay up and watch Christy Brown on The Late Late Show.
“Even though he strongly disapproved of his foul language and warned us in advance, my dad told us how he remembered Christy Brown as a child in Crumlin in what he described as a soapbox on wheels, being pushed around by his posse while shouting orders at them.
“Jim Sheridan’s masterpiece is a great Dublin story of a strong-willed, powerful force trapped in a severely crippled body, brilliantly executed by Daniel Day-Lewis. And Brenda Fricker played his mother in a way that nobody with a Dublin mammy could argue with.”
Fiachna Ó Braonáin(Singer with the Hothouse Flowers)
“My favourite Irish film of all time is In the Name of the Father, directed by Jim Sheridan. I remember being invited to the premiere in Dublin and not being able to leave my seat for a while after the film finished as I was completely overwhelmed by the emotional power it conveyed.
“Not only did the film succeed as stirring statement on injustice it was also a remarkable portrayal of a father/son relationship. It took me days to get over it. Just brilliant”
Francis Brennan (Hotelier)
“I have a few memorable films...The Commitments,which I saw in 1991 in Sydney on my own and the soundtrack blew me away.
“Not forgetting Eat the Peach on which I lost a fortune in a BES Film Tax Scheme. Got no return but was sent share certs in Windmill something or other later on – but not a penny back. I often wonder if I’m a shareholder in Windmill Lane or some other Windmill entity?
“The Wind that Shakes the Barley was filmed locally and set design borrowed furniture pieces from Park Hotel Kenmare to locate on set. Nice to see your own furniture on film.”
Dave Fanning (Broadcaster)
David Fanning’s favour Irish film is His and Hers, directed by Ken Wardrop. “It’s witty, warm and welcoming,” he says.
Does he think Colin Farrell will win Best Actor Oscar for The Banshees of Inisherin?
“No. But I’m not a betting man. So what do I know?
“Actually, he’s much loved, has a great body of work and his only rival is Butler. Surely, the buzz for Fraser has waned. So, mind changed: Colin Farrell has maybe the best chance.”
Helen Phelan (Professor of Arts Practice at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance)
“This one is easy. For me, it has to be Brooklyn, and not only because I was born in Brooklyn to Irish emigrants. Watching this movie is like spending a few hours with my favourite writers, actors and singers.
“I have read every novel by Colm Tóibín. I consider him one of the great Irish writers, with Brooklyn being among his best books. Saoirse Ronan’s performance is a masterclass in understated heartbreak. Iarla Ó Lionáird’s Christmas Day singing scene provides one of the movie’s most heart-stopping moments.
Philly McMahon (Eight-time All-Ireland winner with Dublin)
“A top three for me… Into The West – the Ballymun connection. The flat the horse comes out of was across from my dad’s flat. It’s a story about Irish Travellers. I also had a white horse called Snowy, though not Tír na nÓg.
“Some Mother’s Son is a reflection of the heroics of men fighting for something more then themselves, even if it means life or death. The connection of my dad’s roots of west Belfast really makes this one of my favourite films, it was nice to listen to some stories my dad had of his experiences while watching this.
“Michael Inside is a brilliant reflection of how easy it is to get caught up in criminality – a pathway I could have easily found myself in, only for the support of my family and sport. Our young people need to see the dangers of a pathway of criminality.”
Gayle Killilea (Writer)
“The Field is my favourite Irish film. I saw it as a teenager and it had a huge impact on me, the scenery, the cast of characters, and the very Irish symbolism – the tragedy that ensues over the battle to own a rocky field of grass.
"The first time I met Jim [Sheridan], when I was 19, he asked me what my favourite movie was. I said The Field, not realising he directed it. He was so pleased with himself when I said that.”
Stefanie Preissner (Author)
“I remember, when I was training as an actor, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in My Left Foot stood out to all of us as the pinnacle of performance and acting.
"Michael Fassbender was close to one of our teachers at Gaiety School of Acting so he came in to chat to us. He was really approachable and grounded.
"He was wearing a beanie hat and the following day two of the male acting students in the class came in wearing the same one.”
Lenny Abrahamson (Director)
“Maybe the strongest experience I’ve had in front of an Irish film was sitting in the Lighthouse watching Pat Collins’ magnificent Song of Granite. It’s a portrait of the great sean-nós singer, Joe Heaney, and, rather than having been assembled from the ephemera of performance and captured light, it feels like something weighty you could hold in your hand, like it was cut from the rock of its title.
“There are shots of the actor Michael Ó Chonfhlaola, who plays the singer through one phase of his life, which I will never forget such is their stark and simple beauty. As an account of our landscape and the deep roots of our music there is nothing like it. Pat Collins is one of Ireland’s finest artists and, if you haven’t seen this film, you should really treat yourself.”
Billy Magra (TV producer and comedian)
“I loved My Left Foot, Garage, Adam & Paul, The Young Offenders, Banshees and An Cailin Ciun which in the long run will be rightly trumped as a game-changing classic. Gun to my head? Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments directed by Alan Parker. It gave a voice and a place to a contemporary Dublin that really hadn’t broken through before.
"I had an office (shared with Dave Kavanagh and Clannad) above the Waterfront music/comedy venue on the south quays which hosted auditions for the main cast.
“All day the same songs were played and the sound seeped upstairs morning to night. That went on for days and later live scenes were filmed there too. I was also managing Sean Hughes (he played the scout for Eejit Records) at the time so I witnessed the process (energy and buzz) first-hand.”
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