Both of these texts attempt to examine the current economic and social landscape of Ireland and present a range of constructed characters to dramatise how the country has been radically transformed from being fixated with the past and memories of poverty and emigration. By foregrounding the newfound wealth and opulence of the capital, both seek to uncover what drives the so-called 'Celtic Tiger', while incorporating various fault-lines, such as the prospect of a property crash or a personal crisis which is initiated by the past coming back to haunt a successful property developer. But while David McWilliams' TV study celebrates the new brashness within the culture, John Boorman's film remains more sombre and pessimistic from the outset.
McWilliams' effectively captures the conspicuous consumption of a new middle class. This newly found self-confidence is encapsulated by the wild generalisations cited at the start of his best selling book:
Ireland has arrived. We are richer than any of us imagined possible ten years ago. No Irish person has to emigrate, none of us need pay for education and even our universities are free. Unemployment is the lowest in our history. We have more choice than ever, the place is more tolerant and no one can be legally discriminated against. We have more cash in our back pockets than almost anyone in Europe. We are better off than 99% of humanity. We are top of foreigners' lists as places to live. Unlike many of our rich neighbours, in survey after survey we claim to be very happy. (2)
At the same time, while evoking much irony and sarcasm, the well-known Irish economist also captures this new cosmopolitan middle class on television. We meet 'DIY Declan', 'Low GI Jane', 'Breakfast Roll Man', 'Yummy Mummy' and the 'HiCo's'--the latter being the elite city dwellers far removed from the inhabitants of the growing suburbs, which is characterised by the 'Decklanders'. Mapping the capital's radically changing landscape from the air, McWilliams underscores his thesis with headline grabbing copy, such as 'Irish families are getting smaller but our kitchens are getting bigger', coupled with an assertion that we are witnessing 'the greatest makeover Ireland has ever seen' (3). Such tabloid copy is brash and bold echoing the success of TV production companies like Tyrone Productions, who made this series and were harbingers of a Celtic Tiger confidence, having most famously created the Riverdance phenomenon that travelled the world. Surprisingly the big screen has been slower in capturing the excesses of this 'new Ireland' for comic or more serious dramatic effect.
The English director John Boorman, a longtime resident of Co Wicklow, has been a key figure in the Irish film industry, shooting and/or editing many of his films here, including Deliverance (1972), Emerald Forest (1985) and Excalibur (1981) among others.
Lead actor Brendan Gleeson also starred in the title role of Boorman's successful true-life gangster story centred on notorious Dublin gangster Martin Cahill, The General back in 1998. Unfortunately, this latest study of contemporary Irish culture and social politics falls flat by comparison with the director's earlier more accomplished portrait of the underbelly of Ireland.
Primarily, I would suggest, on account of a poorly developed script, which remains a recurring weakness within much Irish cinema. Furthermore, the sometimes preacherly tone of Boorman's social-realist tale does not sit well with the contrasting hyper-realism of the Bacchanalian excesses of Dublin's 'Left Bank' area.
Both of these texts attempt to examine the current economic and social landscape of Ireland and present a range of constructed characters to dramatise how the country has been radically transformed from being fixated with the past and memories of poverty and emigration. By foregrounding …