Some links before I get started today. Yesterday having had been a Friday, Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday post. The Whisk had a Friday question. Mark had history on his mind. And Lynn shared some of what she's been up to.
Now then, my second pre-St. Patrick's Day movie review...
“You’re a country boy, Jackie. Do you think you can outsmart the man from the city?” ~ Annie O’Shea
“He survived all those storms to be washed away by a few plastic lottery balls.” ~ Michael O’Sullivan
“Dear God. You’ll be cursing in heaven tonight, Ned Devine.” ~ Jackie O’Shea
In 1998, English writer and director Kirk Jones brought Waking Ned Devine (also known as Waking Ned in Britain and Ireland) to the big screen. Set in Ireland and filmed on the Isle Of Man, the film is a story of friendship and dreams, with a rich sense of humour and whimsy. It features strong characterization and late career performances that leave the audience smiling.
We meet Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen), a retired man living with his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) in a quiet, out of the way Irish village called Tullymore. It’s one of those places that feel like a throwback to the past where not much happens and lives carry on in peace. Jackie’s oldest friend is a widower, Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly). A lottery draw turns out to have a local winner, and the trio conspire to find out who that winner is, in the expectation that the winner will be generous with friends. They make inquiries among some of the villagers they know, and set up a dinner to invite the regular players to ferret out who the winner might be. The answer to the question comes up in one missing player- and from there leads to a plan to claim the winnings.
Jones came from a background in commercial work, and this was his first film. He was nominated for a BAFTA as Best Newcomer for writing and directing this, and later would return to direct the films Nanny McPhee and What To Expect When You’re Expecting. He shot the film on the Isle of Man, in between the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it certainly stands in nicely for the Emerald Isle. The hills are green and rolling, the scenery feels like it’s out of Ireland, and the atmosphere and casting add to that. Jones shows a gift for comedy in both his writing and directing, and that certainly comes across in the film. It comes across in an unusual way late in the film, when the camerawork is cutting back and forth between a pub celebration and the comeuppance of the antagonist. The music, by Irish composer Shaun Davey (Twelfth Night), has a very Irish sound to it, sentimental and comedic, even incorporating the old drinking song 'The Parting Glass' into the mix.
The story focuses on two primary themes: friendship on the one hand and the power of dreams on the other. Jackie and Michael come across as guys who’ve known each other their entire lives. The way they relate reflects that, as if the two actors themselves have known each other all their lives. They banter with each other, poke fun, but also support each other. They’re rascals, but sympathetic rascals, so we can root for them while they’re doing something that’s technically against the law. Dreams, literal and figurative, loom large as a theme. The dream that leads Jackie to make an unconventional decision is certainly literal, but you have the less tangible notion of hopes as dreams- dreams of an easier life, dreams of a future together as you see in a couple who are among the supporting characters. Along with these themes are relationship dynamics- how a long married couple relate to each other, how a womanizing weasel manages to get through life, or how a bitter old crone isolates herself from everyone else around her.
The casting for this film was so well chosen. Brendan Dempsey plays Jim Kelly, the lotto claims inspector who turns up a couple of times in the film. He’s a likable sort of fellow, affable and polite, seems to take his job seriously, having no idea that he’s being swindled. Well, not him personally, of course, but the National Lottery. Fintan McKeown plays Pat Mulligan, a younger man with a reputation where the ladies are concerned. He’s a weasel, rather underhanded and shifty, and he has his attention squarely on a local woman; as such, he’s the third aspect of a triangle that forms the subplot of the film. This is a character we instinctively don’t trust, and that comes across in McKeown’s performance. Eileen Dromey plays the one character who can be said to be the villain of the film. Her Lizzy Quinn is a miserly and miserable person, a bitter soul who dislikes everyone around her. She’s confined to an electric wheelchair- though how much she really needs it is another matter. And she spends her time playing the victim, snapping at everyone around her, and accusing others of taking advantage of her- all while she does precisely that. She’s a devious curmudgeon, and every time I see this, I find myself wondering how it is that advocates for the disabled didn’t scream bloody murder about the way this character was depicted through the film. Mind you, it must have been fun to play someone that nasty.
The characters who occupy the subplot and the other two thirds of the triangle are a younger couple, Maggie and Finn (Susan Lynch and James Nesbitt). Maggie is a single mother living with her son and her aging father. She has an on and off again romantic history with Finn, who is convinced he’s the father of her son and that they belong together, but the two have never been able to make things work. He’s a pig farmer, and she’s put off by the smell that lingers to him. The two actors make for a believable couple as they orbit around each other; though much of their story is back story, they come across as people who have a complicated past and a mutual attraction. Both characters have their own sense of pride, they’re both stubborn, but they’re both sympathetic and likable, and that comes from the performances of both actors.
Fionnula Flanagan comes from Irish stock, and spent most of her career on stage and screen in a variety of character roles. Her take on Annie is that of a strong willed Irish grandmother, quick tempered and blunt at times. She’s hesitant to get involved in what becomes a scheme- she points out to Jackie that he’s committing a crime- but also decides that he’s no good to her in prison. Her performance makes up one half of a very believable longtime marriage between two characters, two people who have known each other for decades.
The Irish actor David Kelly had a wealth of acting experience on stage and screen in Britain and Ireland, but not as much exposure in North America before this film. The role is a quiet, soft spoken and gentle sort of fellow who’s never told a lie in his life (and yet makes up for it quickly). Michael is a tremendously likable chap with a good sense of humour. He seems perpetually worried at times, but at other times entirely in his element (a bottle of whiskey helps that along). It’s a funny role- hilariously so at times, but also a tremendously poignant role.
Scottish actor Ian Bannen also had a long career on film, stage, and screen as a character actor. To North American audiences, his best known previous role was as the leprous father of Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Here he plays Jackie with zest; it’s one of his last films, as he died in a car accident the following year. The character is crafty and gruff, but warm, charming, and funny. Jackie is something of a schemer who gets in over his head with his notion- until he realizes the best solution for it. He’s also a dreamer, and this certainly plays out over the course of the film. As a late career role goes, this one is a remarkably fun role to play, and Bannen plays it to the hilt.
Waking Ned Devine is a whimsical tale with an easygoing sense of humour, feeling thoroughly Irish in its sensibilities. It has a wonderfully witty feel to it, and a splendid pay off ending. Filled with quirky characters, it is a film with heart, and a good way to spend a St. Patrick’s Day evening.