For some, St. Patrick’s Day is beloved holiday meant to honor and appreciate their homeland. For others, it’s an excuse to go out and get hammered on cheap, green beer.
Well, regardless of ancestry, we can all appreciate the blend of tradition and stubbornness the Irish have lent the world of cinema. Many films and heated discussions have resulted from Ireland’s bloody civil wars, IRA terrorism, and “Riverdance.” They don’t call them the Fightin’ Irish for nothing. Following is a list of my favorite films that either take place, are about or are made by the Irish:
Gems from the Emerald Isle
The Commitments (1991) - Hands down, this is one of the funniest, rollicking films ever about a band. “The Commitments” focuses on how much struggle, love and strife is involved in starting a band (especially if the band is a motley gang of Dublin blue-collar trash-mouths playing soul music). A cast of unknowns bring the soulful tunes of Wilson Picket, James Brown and Otis Redding to their Grammy-nominated soundtrack. Highly recommended viewing.
The Field (1990) - Richard Harris stars as the ancient Irish farmer “Bull” McCabe who is fiercely and spiritually connected with his plot of land. When the old widow auctions off the field to Yankee Tom Berenger, McCabe teaches him the law of the land. This film portrays some interesting child-rearing techniques as Bull commands his son to do his dirty work. He then goes mad, and racked with guilt and shame, he takes his herd of cattle out for an afternoon stampede in one of the most bizarre endings ever. John Hurt helps out as the rat-faced village idiot while Harris achieves one of his finest roles, for which he received a Best Actor nod from the Academy.
The Quiet Man (1952) - John Wayne stars as the Irish-American boxer who has come home to claim his birthright. He ends up falling for a high-spirited lass but to get the dowry, he must first contend with her bull-headed brother. Beautifully filmed by maverick John Ford, this light-hearted comedy makes the rolling hills of Ireland look luscious. The final fight scene is truly hilarious as the boxers take breaks between rounds to pound some Guiness, then start pounding each other again. A true classic.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) - One of the best of its kind, “Miller’s Crossing” is a cold-hearted look into the Irish mob scene in the ‘20s. The Coen brothers, known for their quirky blend of violent, black comedy, weave a mob triple-cross that will keep you guessing. Peppered with flamboyant dialogue and zingy mob slang, this movie gets better every time you watch it.
Other notable Irish gems: John Sayles’ “The Secret of Roan Inish,” Ed Burns’ “The Brothers McMullen” and John Huston’s last film, “The Dead.”
Tales of the IRA
Michael Collins (1996) - This film is a politically dynamic true-life story of the rogue Irish leader who rallies and unites Ireland against British tyranny in the early ‘20s. As war continues, Collins infiltrates the British intelligence with help from a double agent and outwits the English. He then reluctantly turns statesman, which causes an Irish upheaval and leads to his undoing. A complex film about a complex man. Liam Neeson is brilliant in the lead role. Other excellent performances from Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Julia Roberts make this one powerful film.
The Crying Game (1992) - If you’ve already seen this movie, you know it’s full of surprises. If you haven’t, you should. An intricate web of violence, betrayal, love and redemption, “The Crying Game” lures you in, only to pull the rug out from beneath you. Stephen Rea plays an IRA kidnapper who befriends his hostage, then falls for the hostage’s lover. A unique film, directed by Neil Jordan who also directed “Michael Collins.”
In the Name of the Father (1993) - A family is wrongly imprisoned after a brutal London bombing believed to be caused by the IRA. This film is a gripping portrayal of a real-life incident that casts a dark light on the British judicial system. It reunites director Jim Sheridan with “My Left Foot” star Daniel-Day Lewis, who delivers an intense and believable performance. Other knock-out performances from Emma Thompson and Pete Postlethwaite (as the father with the almost indecipherable Belfast brogue) make this a stirring cinematic experience.
A bunch of blarney
Rawhead Rex (1987) - This flick is a Celtic tale about a monstrous seven-foot demon imprisoned in the earth. After being accidently released by curious farmers, Rawhead goes on a blood-thirsty bender up and down the Irish isle, separating the locals from their heads and munching on some cattle. This was adapted from a Clive Barker short story, but after the film was finished he removed his name.
Leprechauns and beyond
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) - This light-hearted slice of family fun is about an old Irish storyteller who falls down a well and discovers leprechauns. They grant him three wishes, but when he gets back from a journey, no one believes him. This Disney production was a dismal box-office failure, but it has since found an audience on video.