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Image / Living / Culture

15 brilliant Irish films worth adding to your must-see lists


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After the woefulness that was the Wild Mountain Thyme saga, we were inspired by the Irish films that did it right when it came to storytelling and did it well (i.e the genuine Irish accents). Here are a few favourites


 In America

The deeply personal semi-autobiographical screenplay by Sheridan and his daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, focuses on an immigrant Irish family’s struggle to start a new life in New York City, as seen through the eyes of the elder daughter. Johnny and Sarah Sullivan and their daughters Christy and Ariel attempt to start a new life after a tragedy. The soundtrack, impeccable performances from Samantha Morton and Sarah and Emma Bolger, it all makes for a beautiful watch.

Once 

A modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin, it has a timeless quality quite rare in Irish film. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band “The Frames,” the film tells the story of a street musician and Czech immigrant Marketa Irglova during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story. The song Falling Slowly won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song and the film was even adapted for Broadway.

Sing Street

Directed by John Carney of Once in 1980s Dublin, the economic downturn means 14-year-old Conor (a suburb Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is taken out of his posh school and sent to the local comprehensive, world’s away  Partly for escape, mostly to impress an older girl (Lucy Boynton), Conor forms a band. It’s uplifting with an Irishness that makes it comparable to The Commitments and there’s no way you won’t leave it feeling the day is a bit brighter.

My Left Foot

My Left Foot and the remarkable story of Christy Brown – an Irishman born with Cerebral Palsy, who could control only his left foot – was depicted with excellence and careful precision by Daniel-Day Lewis and under Jim Sheridan’s careful direction is an immensely tender depiction of an extraordinary life. Brenda Fricker, Fiona Shaw both give formidable performances as the main women in his life.

The Barrytown Trilogy 

Beginning with The Commitments, in which a pair of penniless friends decide to form a band, the novels and their film adaptations follow the life of Jimmy Rabbite (the band’s long-suffering manager) and his family through ups and downs. Alongside The Snapper and The Van, each of them depicts a realistic time in Irish society with Irish casts and, you guessed it, the accents all spot-on as a result. All three are beloved classics at this stage, yet I still encounter so many who haven’t seen them all. During this pandemic, the stories will be a balm to your bruised soul.

Song of The Sea

The Oscar-winning Song of the Sea is one of the most enchanting Irish animations of recent years. The story follows Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a girl who can turn into a seal, as they go on an adventure to save the spirit world. Ben is resentful; believing that Saoirse, now mute, caused their mother’s death. He runs away from ‘Granny’ to rescue his dog Cú and stumbles into a magical world of fairies and selkies. It’s a beautiful, beautiful movie.

Into The West

Impoverished in Dublin, youngsters Ossie (Ciaran Fitzgerald) and Tito (Ruaidhri Conroy) live with their widowed father (Gabriel Byrne), who drowns his grief in drink. Their existence is uplifted by the arrival of their itinerant grandfather (David Kelly), who has brought with him a magical horse from legend – Tir na nOg. It’s s film that absolutely has retained a classic quality (it’s very much of its time) with a mythical quality that makes it a quintessential Irish film. 

In Bruges

Darkly comedic, Martin McDonagh’s first feature-length film starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen in hiding, a perfect pairing. They play Ray and Ken, two hitmen who get stuck in Bruges, Belgium, after an unsuccessful mission. The situation becomes complicated when their boss asks Ken to kill Ray. With razor-sharp, witty dialogue, and a brilliant cast, this one is an unexpected gem.

Waking Ned

When best friends Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) discover someone in their small Irish village has won the lottery, they immediately set off to see if the winner is in a sharing mood. Deducing that Ned Devine is the lucky man, O’Shea and O’Sullivan pay him a visit, only to find him dead from shock. Since Devine is the only one who can claim the prize, the townsfolk band together to convince the claim inspector that O’Sullivan is really Devine, and split the cash. Over 12 years old, it has lost none of its charms. 

A Date For Mad Mary

Irish actress Seána Kerslake won critics over with her remarkable performance as Mary; who returns home from prison to discover her best friend is getting married and that she is the maid of honour. She isn’t allowed to bring a plus one (on the grounds that she probably won’t be able to get one), but she’s determined to prove everybody wrong. Darkly comedic and real, the movie’s release was acclaimed upon release and it is a must-see.

The Magdalene Sisters 

Not an easy watch by any means, but an essential one that depicts a time that Ireland must never forget. Peter Mullan’s film won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival and tells the story of three young Irish women who are sent to the Magdalene Sisters Asylum and forced to endure dehumanising abuse at the hands of sadistic nuns. Their fight to survive and for freedom is utterly compelling with fantastic performances from the leading actors.

The Field

The third Jim Sheridan film in this list was seamlessly adapted from John B. Keane’s 1965 play of the same name and tells the story of “Bull” McCabe (a mesmerising Richard Harris) who has spent three decades tending a rented field on the bluffs by the sea in Ireland. When the wealthy widow who owns the plot decides to sell it, she holds an open auction to spite McCabe. When the site gets outbid by a rich American, McCabe schemes with his son Tadgh (Sean Bean), to hold on to the land  – no matter the cost.

The Guard

John Michael McDonagh’s distinctly Irish buddy cop crime caper remains among the most successful independent Irish films of all time thanks to a standout script and perfect comedic timing from Brendan Gleeson who was born to play an unorthodox garda whose quiet corner of coastal Connemara becomes a crime hotspot. Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, and Liam Cunningham round up the all-star cast in this brilliantly eccentric Irish film.

The Wind that Shakes The Barley

Set in Ireland in 1920 and there’s a war going on – a guerrilla war for the independence of the Irish Republic, pitting the freedom fighters against the British army, the impoverished Irish workers against the English land barons, and eventually brother against brother. Director Ken Loach’s thrilling tale won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and retains an authentic quality and was cited by some critics at the time of release as one of the best war films ever made.

Brooklyn   

Saoirse Ronan stars as the lead protagonist in the film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s much-loved novel, Brooklyn. A national treasure, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, who, on the advice of her beloved sister, sets off for New York City in pursuit of opportunities that her hometown in Ireland can no longer offer. As was the experience of many Irish emigrants in the 1950s, Saoirse’s character is consumed by the most crippling homesickness. She’s striking as ever on-screen and was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.

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