Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Irish Movie Marathon

Welcome to St. Patrick's Day and this Journal's personal favorite movies for the occasion.

In recognition of the day, I took a closer look at  movies about Ireland, or those that feature Irish characters transplanted to America.

Were I to program a marathon of Irish-themed films, there is a really good number of movies from which to choose.  As far back as the 1930's,  Americans have loved movies set on the Emerald Isle, or about Americans of Irish descent.  For a great listing of these films, check out a web-site called The Irish In Film: An Annotated Database.

As I researched these movies, I found a surprising few titles about St. Patrick himself.  Only one notable title came up, "St. Patrick: The Irish Legend",  made for television in 2000. It stars Patrick Bergin, Alan Bates, Susannah York, and Malcolm McDowell.  

Unfortunately, the old holy snake-herder never did get the big Hollywood treatment himself.

So, if you were to venture to my private screening room to honor the Irish holiday, I would offer you the following slate of nine for my marathon.  Remember, these are my personal favorites. Some may not exactly be the most authentic depictions of the Irish experience.  And I am not a huge fan of films about Irish gangs (sorry!).

"The Quiet Man"  No list of Irish films is complete without this classic with John Wayne in one of his rare Oscar-nominated performances.  A lusty and funny clash of Irish and American cultures, directed by Sean O'Feeney--better known to us as John Ford.

"Ryan's Daughter"  David Lean's earnest and sweeping tale of an illicit affair between a small-town Irishwoman and an enemy soldier. It was a critical disaster, and some of the exteriors were shot in South Africa, but Sarah Miles heads a cast of convincing (if somewhat cliched) villagers. Suspend your disbelief for 3-1/2 hours and indulge in old-fashioned Irish romance and intrigue. 

"My Left Foot" An Oscar-triumph for Daniel Day-Lewis as the physically challenged artist and writer Christy Brown, who used his title appendage first to communicate and then to achieve fame.  Lots of passion and drinking and brotherly camaraderie, plus a brawling and loving family held together by Brenda Fricker.

"The Crying Game" A mind-bender of a romance, as Fergus escapes his service to the IRA and keeps a promise that he will look after a doomed prisoner's girlfriend named Dil.  A mysterious and shocking love affair ensues.  Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan captures the nuances of character with a terrific script. BIG SPOILER (if you HAVE NOT seen this movie yet, cover your ears and go "la-la-la")...When I saw this the first time, when the infamous "moment" occurs and the packed house gasped in nervous laughter, I whispered to my friend, "That woman has a p----!" 

"Finian's Rainbow"  An odd, "mod" cinematic treatment of a musical about leprechauns, pots of gold, and racism in the American South.  Directed by that ultimate Irishman, Francis McFord O'Coppola.  But with Fred Astaire, Petula Clark, and lilting melodies like "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "Look To The Rainbow," it's irresistible.

"Bloody Sunday" A riveting docu-drama about civil-rights strife that erupted in the deadly riots of January 1972.  Directed with amazing realism by Paul Greengrass ("United 93"), the tragic chapter in Irish history was captured by U2 in their song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (not to be confused with the Glenda Jackson-Peter Finch love story, which was very British). 

"The Commitments" A lively musical examination of the same working class that populated "Bloody Sunday", as a group of decidedly Irish young musicians strives to become a bona-fide soul-and-blues band.  Some terrific covers of artists like Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, and director Alan Parker's grubby images of Dublin.

"Veronica Guerin" The always-excellent Cate Blanchett in a true story about a Dublin journalist who came dangerously close to the criminal element she covered.  Her crusading efforts ultimately changed the Irish judicial system. Actually, the movie is 100 times more entertaining than I just made it seem, credit to Blanchett, who I think is this moviegoing generation's Glenda Jackson. 

"Going My Way"  Mentioned here just two days ago.  This is the Old-Hollywood traditional depiction of Irish-Catholic priests, complete with brogues, old mothers from the Old Country, and a little nip now and then to keep the "cute" factor high.  But it works, at least to this viewer, who found it's buoyant, "Swingin' On A Star" hokum charming, and succumbed to the mother-son-reunion finale with the appropriate sentimental sobbing.

So...what would you include in an Irish-themed St. Patrick's Day Movie Marathon? 


  1. Nice list - plenty of blarney mixed with social realism. I'd probably add The Field, low-key farming drama with a fantastic central performance from Richard Harris.

  2. The Field is a great addition!