Kings, the Newgrange Picture/Greenpark Films co-production adapted from Jimmy Murphy's play, The Kings of the Kilburn Highroad (2000), scripted and directed by Tom Collins enjoyed many nominations, international showings and awards in the months following its release in September 2007.1 Based closely on Jimmy Murphy's acclaimed play The Kings of the Kilburn High Road (2000), the film is a searingly realistic portrayal of a boozy reunion of five Connemara men in Kilburn, London for the funeral of their friend, who has been killed on the tracks of the London Underground. The six of them had left Ireland together in the 1970s to work 'on the buildings' in London, but over the course of the subsequent thirty years they went their separate ways. The tragic end met by Jackie (Sean O Tarpaigh), brings them together again at his wake and forces them to face their respective demons, however briefly and inconclusively.
Joe Mullan (Colm Meaney), the most successful of them, has done well for himself and is now running his own building company. But he has a cocaine problem and a certain sense of having let Jackie down at a critically important time. Git O'Donnell (Brendan Conroy) and Jap Kavanagh (Donal O'Kelly) are more or less hopeless, unemployed alcoholics, who would be failures if they were to return home and are almost destitute in London. Mairtin Rodgers (Barry Barnes) has a wife and home but will have used up his last chance to save his marriage if he hits the bottle one more time with his mates. The only one in a stable enough position to actually organise the funeral and take care of Jackie's father when he comes over from Ireland to bring the coffin home, is Shay O Meallaigh (Donncha Crowley), a married man with family and a successful London greengrocery business. Decent and steady through he is, he also knows that his decision years ago to fire Jackie may have set his once-time friend on his ultimately fatal downward spiral. All the issues raised and hinted at are played out, one way or another, during the wake which is held in the snug of the pub they used to frequent together as young lads, recently arrived from Ireland, with all their lives ahead of them.
Kings is the story of a closely knit bunch of Irish emigrants, people who grew up together and are possibly all even from the same parish, if not townland or village. They know each other and each other's seed, breed and generation intimately. Before they set out on their great adventure to England, they knew exactly who they were: local lads and sporting heroes. Now in England, the early identity they shaped for themselves in Ireland means little or nothing. They are marked out in London by their minority status: unskilled immigrants--Paddies--and Irish-speaking Paddies, at that. The story of dashed hopes and human failure which the film tells, rings true and is deeply, depressingly, moving. It is a story Ireland has been in no great hurry to tell. Like all good art, the film is both local and universal in its appeal and succeeds in conveying many of the challenges central to the experience of migrants the world over. For this reason, although it is ostensibly a film about Ireland's past, Kings is also very much a film about our present and our future.
It is in this context that the decision to film mainly in Irish, and to use the issue of language as a particular marker of identity, a marker of both inclusion and exclusion, needs to be examined. Clearly, since the film was funded by Northern Ireland Screen, Bord Scannan na hEireann/The Irish Film Board, the Broadcast Commission of Ireland and TG4, there was some linguistic novelty value in using Irish rather than English for the main dialogue. And having the main players speak Irish, a minority language even in its own country, was a useful way to emphasise the marginalised status of the characters in the great metropolis of London.
The main characters are all presented as having come to England from south Connemara. …