The first Irish movie I ever saw starred Scotsman Sean Connery. It was a revival showing of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a 1959 Disney film that worked overtime to be charming and had a plot involving leprechauns. Connery, in his pre-James Bond phase, even sang:
St. Patrick’s Day may be upon us, but I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone watch the total blarney that is Darby O’Gill. It wasn’t even truly Irish after all, having been shot on the Disney lot in California and nearby locations.
If you do want to add a little shamrock to your screen viewing on March 17, here are five genuine Irish films sure to please:
1. The Commitments (1991)
A group of young, mostly out of work Dubliners form a band specializing in soul music. This feel-good comic drama is based on a novel by popular Irish author Roddy Doyle. It was directed by Britisher Alan Parker and won four BAFTAs, including Best Film. Its young, then mostly unknown cast, included Colm Meaney, Bronagh Gallagher, Maria Doyle Kennedy (who played Mr. Bates’ blackmailing first wife on Downton Abbey) and Glen Hansard (Once).
2. Waking Ned Devine (1998)
If it’s charm and whimsy you want, it is hard to beat this puckish comedy about a group of townsfolk in a small Irish village who conspire to cash in on a dead man’s winning lottery ticket. James Nesbitt, Susan Clark, Fionnula Flanagan and the late David Kelly star. (Sticklers will want to note that the film was actually shot on the Isle of Man, which is located in the Irish Sea, in between Ireland and the U.K.)
3. Odd Man Out (1947)
Call it film noir with an Irish twist. In this tense thriller, a young, velvet-voiced James Mason plays an IRA leader who becomes a hunted man after a fund-raising robbery goes wrong. The black and white film was shot partly on location in Belfast and was directed by Britisher Carol Reed (Oliver!).
4. Once (2006)
A musical delight that also showcases modern day Dublin and nearby spots. This low-key love story uses a handful of tunes – “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for Best Song – to chronicle the growing friendship and, soon, even closer bond between a street musician (Glen Hansard) and a recent immigrant (Marketa Irglova).
5. The Dead (1987)
Based on a classic short story by James Joyce, one of Ireland’s greatest writers, The Dead is the final film made veteran Hollywood director John Huston, who loved Ireland deeply. (Huston’s ancestors were Irish, and he himself lived there for many years.) In this lyrical, elegiac drama, characters reflect on life and love and opportunities lost – not that anyone says as much – while gathered for a Christmas dinner in turn-of-the-century Ireland. Anjelica Huston (daughter of the director), Donal McCann and Donal Donnelly star.
What’s your favorite Irish film?