Whether a gritty drama or far-flung space opera, good cinema comes from telling true stories. Clinging to stereotypes just isn’t going to cut it with a lot of seasoned filmgoers today. One classic example of said stereotypes is Ireland and its people, where popular imagery and old tropes make for a huge contrast with the strong quality of filmmaking coming out of the island, in spite of its relatively small size.
Some instances of lazy Irish stereotypes on the silver screen almost seem to have been designed to make us squirm. Take Ron Howard’s 1992 schmaltzy epic Far and Away, for instance, the bizarrely awkward script of which has been fingered as among the most cringeworthy. Some of the small screen examples are probably worse, such as the incompetent builder O’Reilly featured in Fawlty Towers. The same has happened in video games, as anyone who remembers Patrick McReary from GTA IV — complete with an alcoholic father and penchant for singing and fighting — will attest.
Imagery associated with Ireland has filtered into mainstream culture in ways that are less so offensive as intentionally goofy. Consider the use of a popular Irish myth in the comedy-horror Leprechaun film series. In video games, too, the previously-unreleased SNES hidden gem Nightmare Busters featuring a card-slinging leprechaun protagonist was finally released in 2013. You can find some popular depictions of Ireland among the Cheeky Bingo Jackpot slots. These include titles such as Leprechaun’s Luck Cash Collect and Lock o’The Irish, which both trade heavily on luck, Irish myths and the colour green, so synonymous with the Emerald Isle. Whilst these are clever workings of accepted Irish imagery, they don’t particularly represent modern-day Ireland. The same goes even for less kitsch efforts — the Wrath of the Druids expansion for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is set well over a thousand years ago, for instance.
For a real flavour of modern Ireland, though, there are plenty of great flicks to throw on. Here’s our top pick.
Released in 2003 and enormously successful at home, Intermission offers something of a slice of Dublin of the time. The film has a bit of an Irish all-star cast, with Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney and Cillian Murphy all vying for your heartiest chuckle. Shirley Henderson’s quirky sub-plot performance steals the show a bit, but the likeable anti-hero stories that string together to form the bedrock of the piece will have you vacillating between amusement and tension.
Irish entertainment includes more than its fair share of comedy, such as Stones in His Pockets, a play that recently finished its run at the Lyric theatre. But if you want said comedy blended with drama and wrapped in the warm embrace of an 80s hits soundtrack, Sing Street has you covered. Yes, the father is a heavy drinker, but writer-director John Carney neatly avoids making this or other elements cliches to deliver a toe-tapping, tear-jerking classic.
The Secret of Kells
Ok so this one does have a historical-mythical setting, but this beautiful animation and its folklore follow-ups, The Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, show that there’s much more to the country’s legends than just leprechauns. Set in the 9th century, a dramatic period that the grittier Assassin’s Creed team were also drawn to, The Secret of Kells touches on some of the aspects that helped to form modern Irish society. This is one for all the family, and a gorgeously stylised introduction to an important feature of Irish culture.
Irish cinema has a spunk that many have come to expect from its people. But over the years, that has expressed itself with great variety and refinement.