The Banshees of Inisherin
Review by Amanda Ellison
Cross James Joyce’s short story The Dead with iconic Irish comedy Father Ted - and the result is probably a lot like Martin McDonagh’s tragicomedy, The Banshees of Inisherin.
The year is 1923. The place is the fictional island of Inisherin, where the Irish civil war can be heard waging on the mainland. A war that pits Irishman against Irishman – a “bad do” - could perhaps be the story of the islanders writ large: two lifelong friends, “limited” but “nice” cow herder Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and “thinker” Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) reach an impasse in their relationship that parallels that of the unionists and loyalists. The historical backdrop is a little clunky - but a little imperfection never hurt anyone.
After years of daily trips to the pub – at 2pm on the dot – Colm suddenly decides to sever ties with the younger chap, bluntly explaining “I just don’t like you no more.” Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Colm, it seems, is suffering from some kind of existential crisis, hit by the realisation that he may be forgotten when he dies. He fancies himself a Mozart and is gripped by the urge to create something meaningful as his legacy. Simple soul Pádraic, whose only other friend appears to be Jenny the donkey, has no place in Colm’s mission of despair. He reacts to Colm’s rejection with the incredulity of someone jilted by their childhood sweetheart. The repeated rejections provide plenty of guffaw moments, mixing the comical with Brother Grimm- like macabre: Colm threatens to remove one of his own fingers (vital if his fiddle-playing ambitions are to be realised) every time Pádraic deigns to try and rekindle their relationship. He quite literally gives Pádraic the finger.
The reunion of Farrell and Gleeson, who last joined forces in McDonagh’s In Bruges in 2008, provides the backbone of the film. Farrell, in particular, showcases his abilities as a fine character actor and flexes his furrowed brows like never before. But every character adds to the authenticity of this insular Irish community, from Pádraic’s brainy sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) who is making moves to find less of a “feckin’ boring” life as a librarian on the mainland, to stereotypical village idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan), bullied by his brutish policeman of a father. If anyone steals the show it is Keoghan, who balances the interplay between brashness and vulnerability perfectly. And then, of course, the motif of the comically banshee-like character, Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton) is a constant reminder of death on the horizon.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a refreshing piece of film-making that stands apart from every other movie at the moment. Plot, characterisation, tone, and cinematography combine to create a piece of storytelling that really hits the mark.