In much the same way that the populations of Central and Eastern Europe experienced the majority of the 20th century under the control of a powerful and repressive regime, so too did that small island on the western tip of the continent.
In the aftermath of independence from Britain and partition with Northern Ireland in the 1920s, the Catholic Church, in tandem with the ruling political class, stepped into the vacated authoritarian role, imposing a strict set of religiously-motivated rules and laws on Irish society.
As thousands of young boys, deemed to be ‘trouble makers’, were sent to abusive industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers and young single mothers, or ‘fallen women’, had their babies taken from them and were institutionalized in horrific Magdalene asylums, those on the outside were faced with widespread censorship and prohibition of anything that was seen as ‘sinful’ or ‘immoral’ by the Church.
After almost seven decades in which homosexuality, divorce, condoms without a prescription and even Playboy, were banned, the early 1990s saw an awakening of Irish society and all four were legalized in a short space of time. Inspired by the success of the Irish football team at the 1990 World Cup, returning emigrants and the election of its first female president, a confident, inclusive and forward-thinking society began to emerge, and that was no more evident than through the films being produced at the time.
Before 1990, Irish cinema seemed to be defined by violence and misery, American actors playing Irish characters but butchering the accent, awful stereotypes of a land infested by drunken simpletons and terrorists, or – granted he’s a great actor – Daniel Day Lewis. It was insular and lacking a true insight into the Irish people. The generation that came of age in the 90s however, brought along a unique list of talented filmmakers and actors, and with it, a number of fantastic, modern movies showcasing Ireland to the world.
With that in mind, we present to you eight of the best Irish films from the ‘post-Catholic Church’ generation.
The Commitments (1991)
“Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”
The first film to truly embody contemporary life in Ireland, The Commitments is considered a huge landmark in the history of Irish cinema. Directed by Englishman Alan Parker, it was adapted from a Roddy Doyle novel and tells the tale of a group of down-and-out Dubliners who are brought together in the form of a soul band.
Inspired by the notion that Northsiders are the blacks of Dublin, Jimmy Rabbitte dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and, after much searching, brings together a bunch of brash yet talented local characters to play pitch-perfect covers by the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. However, when personalities and egos clash soon after, it looks like they may throw it all away before they even make it.
Despite the cast list of predominantly unknown actors and musicians, The Commitments received widespread critical and box office acclaim at the time, both nationally and internationally, and the film, along with the brilliant accompanying soundtrack, remains popular over 25 years on.
The Snapper (1993)
“How do you know he was Spanish? Or a sailor? He could’ve been a Pakistani postman if you were that drunk!”
Directed by Stephen Frears and adapted from another of Roddy Doyle’s books in the Barrytown trilogy, The Snapper sees a working class Dublin family come together to face something that only a few years previous had been taboo in Ireland: an unplanned pregnancy.
Twenty years old and single, Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) shocks her family, including father Dessie (Colm Meaney), when she breaks the news that, following a drunken one night stand, she is pregnant. Refusing to reveal the identity of the mystery man, Sharon finds herself the subject of incessant neighbourhood gossip, whilst her parents, 3 brothers and 2 sisters (a small Irish family, at the time) wrestle with the effect that her news has on their position in the community.
Roddy Doyle has a knack of presenting Irish family life at its most authentic and The Snapper exemplifies this talent perfectly. Colm Meaney is hilarious as always, but complimented by the sharp, dry wit of female leads Ruth McCabe and Tina Kellegher.
Disco Pigs (2001)
“I want to walk into the sea and never come back. I want the tide to take me out of me and give me someone else. Maybe for a half hour or so. That would be good, wouldn’t it, Pig?”
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan and starring Cillian Murphy (in his first major film role) and Elaine Cassidy, Disco Pigs tells the story of Pig and Runt who – born on the same day, in the same hospital, moments apart – are inseparable.
Almost telepathic, the two are one, needing no one else, inhabiting a delicate, insular and dangerous world where they make their own rules and converse in their own language. The balance of their world begins to shift in the run up to their 17th birthday however, with Runt’s sexual awakening and Pig’s jealousy threatening to tear them apart.
Probably the least well-known film on this list, Disco Pigs is a wonderfully unsettling account of love and obsession and is one of the earliest standout performances by the supremely talented Corkonian Cillian Murphy.
“You just don’t have the requisite Celtic soul, man.”
Released in 2003 to little or no fanfare despite its stellar cast, John Crowley’s debut film Intermission brilliantly, and hilariously, portrays the interweaving lives and loves of working-class, suburban Dublin: from small-town delinquents and dodgy cops to kinky divorcees and sexually frustrated shelf-stackers.
When John (Cillian Murphy) attempts a ‘trial’ breakup with his girlfriend (Kelly Macdonald), she soon starts dating a middle-aged banker, and he swiftly realizes that he’s made a huge mistake. After telling his boss at the supermarket to go fuck himself, a chance encounter with small-time criminal Lehiff (Colin Farrell), leads to them hatching revenge on the banker by robbing his place of work. Unfortunately for them, a local hotshot detective with a penchant for Celtic mysticism (Colm Meaney) has it out for Lehiff following a confrontation in the local pub’s lavatories, and his increased scrutiny threatens to unravel their brown sauce-fuelled plot.
Despite the multiple story lines and various characters, Intermission brilliantly holds together, arriving at its final destination at just the right time. Containing not a hint of filler and some effortless acting, this is a well-crafted and entertaining looking at everyday Irish life.
Adam and Paul (2004)
“I’m not wiping meself with a Tayto bag!”
Produced by arguably the finest Irish director of his generation, Lenny Abrahamson’s debut feature film, Adam and Paul, is a bleak, funny and absurd portrayal of a day in the life of two Dublin junkies – the titular Adam and Paul (although we are never told who is who) – and their modern day Waiting for Godot-esque ramble around a Dublin rarely seen on screen.
Having been cast aside by an increasingly prosperous society, the two mates wake up on a mattress in the middle of nowhere, although Dublin’s iconic red and white Poolbeg chimneys are seen in the distance. After making their way into the city, Adam and Paul proceed to spend the day trying to beg, borrow or steal enough money to secure their next fix.
Some truly bittersweet, and downright hilarious, moments of comedy shine out of what is tragedy in it’s rawest form, with both lead actors turning in fantastically real performances – Tom Murphy, who died soon after this film was released, and Mark O’Halloran.
Similar to Intermission, Adam and Paul provides a slice of bleak reality in modern day Dublin city.
Breakfast On Pluto (2005)
“If I wasn’t a transvestite terrorist, would you marry me?”
In creating 2005’s Breakfast On Pluto, celebrated director Neil Jordan turned to author Patrick McCabe’s boundless imagination to recreate 1970s Ireland as an odyssey of gender-bending possibility, courtesy of its irrepressible trans lead, Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden, played by the mesmerizing Cillian Murphy.
It’s 1973 and Kitten decides to leave her Irish border town for London, in part to look for her mother, but also due to the fact her transgender nature is beyond the understanding of those back home. Resilient and possessing an infectious optimism, she’s taken in by a rock band, whereby she falls for the lead singer, has brushes with the IRA, is arrested by the Met police, works in a peep show, and poses as a survey researcher for the phone company. Throughout, both Kitten’s Irishness and her transgender nature put her at great risk, reflecting the dangerous situations of many Irish immigrants in England at the time.
With its dreamy visuals, multi-layered and realistic characters, mixed with stark visceral violence and political mechanisms, Breakfast On Pluto creates an emotionally jarring experience rarely seen on the silver screen.
In Bruges (2008)
“Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”
Very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and quaint cobbled streets, two London-based Irish hitmen find themselves holed up in the Belgian city of Bruges, where they have been sent to lay low following a botched hit job.
Still haunted by what took place back in London, Ray (Colin Farrell) hates the place with a passion, while Ken (Brendan Gleeson), guidebook in hand, calls to mind an overly enthusiastic dad on a camping trip. The longer the pair are left waiting for their boss, Harry’s (Ralph Fiennes) call to signal their next move however, the more surreal their experience in Bruges becomes.
Backed by a wonderful supporting cast, including a small-time drug dealer who also works in the Belgian film industry (Clemence Poesy) and a “racist dwarf” (Jordan Prentice), as well as a fantastic script by writer-director Martin McDonagh, the destinies of each character ultimately converge in an ingenious manner. Before that defining point, there are moments of great sadness and poignancy, times of abandon, times of goofiness, reflections on morality and mortality, and that kind of humor that is really funny because it grows out of character and close observation.
A near perfect piece of art, In Bruges also has a special place in Post Pravda’s heart, as it’s two founders friendship began over their shared obsession with the film.
The Guard (2011)
“I’m Irish. Racism is part of my culture.”
Directed by John Michael McDonagh – the brother of the aforementioned Martin – The Guard sees an unorthodox west of Ireland Garda, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), join forces with a straight-laced FBI agent named Everett, (Don Cheadle) to tackle an international drug smuggling gang in Connemara’s Irish-speaking region.
One of the greatest comedic characters of modern times, Gleeson’s portrayal of Sgt. Boyle as a racist, alcoholic, drug-taking, prostitute-loving, terrorist-dealing character is so all-consuming that it takes a repeat viewing to be reminded that the movie also features Hollywood heavyweights including Cheadle, Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong.
While the international cocaine smuggling ring plot seems like a take-it-or-leave-it afterthought, the movie correctly wraps itself around Gleeson, whose deadpan delivery of his subversive sense of humour powers the film along, while his unwanted FBI partner Cheadle tries to get to grips with the locals. Their interaction showcases the perplexing relationship that the Irish continue to have with race. On the one hand, a major consumer of black art and culture, but simultaneously prone to faux pas language. It brings about the Irish famous conundrum of “Racist, or just having the craic?”
Very much on a par with In Bruges for its ingenious McDonagh-produced script, The Guard is the most successful independent Irish film of all time in terms of Irish box-office receipts.