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Pat Collins and Barry Ward on the big-screen adaptation of That They May Face the Rising Sun

Pat Collins and Barry Ward on the big-screen adaptation of That They May Face the Rising Sun


by Jennifer McShane
07th Jul 2024

Jennifer McShane speaks to director Pat Collins and star of That They May Face the Rising Sun, Barry Ward, about the film’s beautifully still big-screen adaptation.

The first thing that strikes in That They May Face the Rising Sun is the glorious Irish rural countryside. The rustle of grass, the rays of sun, a couple content to just be, basked in its tranquillity. Sounds of life; cars, chats with the locals and gathering to mourn – all come later. 1970s Ireland is the setting in Pat Collins’ ode to John McGahern’s final novel and it highlights a simple and loving slice of Irish life.

Joe (Barry Ward) and Kate Ruttledge (Anna Bederke) have returned after five years in bustling London to live and work among a small, rural, lakeside community in Ireland where Joe grew up. Embedded in the life around the lake, they move through the rituals of daily life and the passing seasons. It’s a journey, and one without an obvious destination from the outset as the viewer is lulled by the repetitive rhythms of the rural setting.

That They May Face the Rising Sun
Barry Ward

This is, Barry says, what drew him to the project and cites his love for McGahern’s novel and Collins’ script. “It was, I felt, the book that best captured the world I had grown up in. The characters, the landscape, and the pace of living. From the interactions of neighbours, the kindness and love, the sudden bursts of anger or the thunderous silence of what goes unsaid. And I thought [the script] captured that, the beauty of the everyday. Pat showcased the essence of the book, that stillness, and that sense of time and space; it exudes from the movie.”

“One of the central reasons why I wanted to make a film from this particular book was because the book was such a lovely evocation of the seasons and time passing,” explains Pat. “Many fiction films and documentaries are stories that could be told in a magazine article – everything is there to serve the narrative. But I’m probably the opposite of that. For me, the narrative is a means of exploring the smaller, more ordinary moments. And that’s why this book was very attractive to me. Everyone wants to know, ‘what’s it about?’. But, you know, what’s life about?”

The importance of community and connection to the land around Joe, a writer and Kate, an artist is important to all the characters, particularly the older generation, who comment on their comings and goings in none-too-quiet tones. They are vocal; surprised the couple have “lasted” upon their return and proud that they themselves “have seen everything and never left.” “I think, with Joe and Kate’s coming back from London, they’re clearly more worldly, bringing that greater experience back with them,” says Barry. “I’m not sure if they are the kind of people who want to get involved in small town politics. They’re affable and I do think they’ve found their own sense of belonging among an intriguing cast of people around them.”

That They May Face the Rising Sun
Pat Collins

“I think community is still very strong in Ireland – especially in rural Ireland,” Pat adds. “There are far more pressures on people now – everything is designed to keep us apart. Technology is isolating. But the closeness of communities comes from necessity. The funeral is still the sphere where Ireland is exemplary. Because ultimately you need to pull together for the common good – even if you don’t agree about absolutely everything. The relationships between those characters are very complex – not black and white at all – yet you have to have some humility within a community. That’s a big part of the book.”

“If it makes people pause for a moment, that’s a wonderful thing,” Barry says of what he hopes viewers take away from the movie. “In a world where we’re bombarded with big bombastic shows everywhere, it’s nice a film like this exists that really does take you out of the rat race, and brings you to a time and place where it’s a slower way of being.”

That They May Face the Rising Sun is being screened in the Irish Film Institute

A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of IMAGE.

IMAGE Summer 2024

The Summer issue of IMAGE is here, and we’re taking the longer days as an opportunity to slow down, take stock, and luxuriate in the lull that summer brings. From laid-back looks to in-depth reads, there’s everything you need to set you up for the season. Plus: * Warm-weather style * Boho is back * In studio with Irish designer Sinéad O’Dwyer * Career success stories * Growing and foraging * Women in music * Reframing divorce * Tackle your tiredness * Summer beauty favourites * Bringing the outdoors in * Irish eco escapes * Garden getaways * and so much more…

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