With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, and everyone around the world pretending to be a little Irish, let’s take a look at some of the best films our small island has ever produced. Outside of the horrific Irish depictions and accents put to film (I’m looking at you Far and Away & Leap Year), there have been some truly terrific Irish films; many of which can hold their own against the best that Hollywood has to offer.
Here is a selection of three great Irish films to give you the feels this St. Patrick’s Day.
1) Michael Collins (1996)
Neil Jordan’s 1996 historical biopic of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hero of Irish history is sure to tug on the patriotic strings of any Irishman or woman. The movie follows the story of IRA commander Michael Collins, played brilliantly by Liam Neeson, from the 1916 Rising through the War of Independence, the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty, all the way until his death at Béal na Bláth, Co Cork in 1922. While the movie certainly has its faults, particularly in some of the historical inaccuracies, the Hollywood-esque subplot involving Julia Roberts and her dodgy Irish accent, there is no denying the power of the movie, particularly that emotionally charged ambush scene at the end of the movie. Let’s also remember the late Alan Rickman’s performance as Éamon De Valera.
2) Sing Street (2016)
Easily one of the most underrated movies of recent years, and one that most definitely should have been nominated, at the very least, for best original song at the 2017 Academy Awards. Directed by John Carney, who went from the super Irish and super indie Once to the super American and mainstream Begin Again, Sing Street returns Carney to Dublin in a fantastical musical coming-of-age comedy-drama. Sing Street is a simple story of a boy who falls in love with a girl across the street, and the lengths he goes to in order to impress her, including setting up the titular band. The movie is a beautiful piece of musical escapism that captures the feeling of entrapment felt by many Irish people in an environment where escape means getting on a boat to Britain or America. Carney’s best film to date, and one that you can find on Netlix, check it out today!
3) The Guard (2011)
A brilliantly funny Irish buddy-cop movie, and there aren’t many of those, about a layabout garda, played by Brendan Gleeson with his usual wry sense of humour, who is stationed in the Irish Gaeltacht. He is thrust into serious police work when a shipment of cocaine, worth $500 million, is believed to be landing off the Irish coast. Brought in to aid the Gardaí is an FBI agent, played by Don Cheadle. Together, the two of them embark upon a hilarious journey where the clash of cultures is brought to the forefront, as Cheadle’s distinctly American character is befuddled by the nature of criminality and law enforcement in Ireland, which acts in stark contrast to his native country. The movie also plays with the audience and their relationship with criminality on film, particularly as our relationship with police and crime has been so heavily influenced by American media, which does not reflect the reality of crime in Ireland at all.
Some honourable mentions:
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006): Ken Loach’s dark war drama, starring the encapsulating Cillian Murphy, set during the War of Independence and the Civil War about a pair of brothers who fight for freedom, and the lengths they’ll go to. This film won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, but was ignored by the Academy Awards.
The Young Offenders (2016): An Irish buddy-comdey road-trip movie, where the protagonists journey by bike down the coast of Cork in search of drugs that will make them rich. The movie proved to be so popular that it was transformed into a television show.
Hunger (2008): Steve McQueen’s historical drama about the 1981 hunger strike by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The movie stars Michael Fassbender as the iconic Boddy Sands.
Once (2007): The previously mentioned super-indie, super-Irish, musical-drama directed by John Carney, starring the wonderful duo of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová as two struggling musicians in Dublin. Similar to Sing Street, the film boasts an amazing soundtrack, spearheaded by the Oscar-winning track Falling Slowly.