Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

An Bronntanas [the Gift] (Tom Collins 2014)

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

An Bronntanas [the Gift] (Tom Collins 2014)

Article excerpt

Tom Collins has been an active force in Irish film-making for decades, having been involved in founding the Derry Film and Video Collective in 1984, and working as camera operator on the controversial documentary Mother Ireland (Harkin 1986). He has produced or directed many well-received documentaries, and in 2007 directed the bilingual feature about a group of Conamara immigrants to London, Kings (2007) which like An Bronntanas, was nominated as the Irish entry for 'Best Foreign Language Film' at the Academy Awards. (1) This is an impressive record: given the challenges in making feature-length drama in Irish, it is unsurprising that only a handful of original features in the Irish language exist. (2)

Written by Collins, Joe Byrne, Paul Walker and Eoin McNamee, the story tells of the personal, familial and community fallout that ensues when the main character, reformed alcoholic and recently returned emigrant JJ Magill (Dara Devaney/ Darach O Dubhain), chooses the darker side. The story's central themes include filial loyalty, where the doughty Carmel (Charlotte Bradley) impels her younger son to take over his late father's struggling business despite his brighter prospects across the the Atlantic, and romantic love, where the feisty Roisin (Michelle Beamish) chooses the better of the two brothers and manages to keep a blind eye turned to their increasingly frantic cover-ups. Community is personified in the factory workers, who rely on one entrepreneur to keep their town working, and the Irish-American Garda Sean Og (John Finn), whose courteous manner belies distress at his detective son (Owen McDonnell) Fiachra's cruelty. First broadcast as a five-part television series in October-November 2014, An Bronntanas was very successful with its core audience, (a survey by the audience panel Fios Fise showed 60% to be 'very satisfied' with the series) and the wider Irish public (TAM ratings for the first four episodes reached 340,000), making the thriller one of the most popular indigenous dramas so far on TG4. Similarly, the feature film 'cut' attracted a capacity crowd at the Galway Fleadh in July 2014 (Butler 2014).

This was not the first time that ROSG, a small Conamara independent production company co-founded by Ciaran O Cofaigh and Robert Quinn, sought to express a noir vision in its drama. Since the beginning of the short film schemes organised by TG4 and the Irish Film Board/ FilmBase, ROSG's presence has been consistent, with Cosa Nite [Clean Getaway] (1998) and An Leabhar [The Book] (2000), both nominated as 'best short' at the 1999 and 2002 IFTAs respectively (Lysaght, 2004). (3) Their 2010 series/ feature adaptation Na Cloigne [The Heads], ventures into supernatural territory. (4) Although ROSG is also involved in documentary and animation, the dark aesthetic of their fictional offerings continued into longer productions such as the ambitious feature Cre na Cille (2007), a visually rich adaptation of Mairtin O Cadhain's eponymous modernist novel.

An Bronntanas was originally designed as a six-part television series, but due to funding difficulties, the decision was made to reduce this to five-parts with a companion feature film version also produced for festival screening (O Cofaigh 2014). In the vein of Celtic noir, whose atmosphere is influenced in equal part by recent Nordic noir TV drama and by the darker side of Irish rural society, An Bronntanas engages with big moral dilemmas faced by ordinary people. The storyline follows the twists and turns that ensue when a volunteer lifeboat crew decides to cover up an unexpected drugs find--and a murder--for their own gain. Dealing with characters on and beyond the margins (fish factory employees in danger of being downsized, Polish visitors, alcoholics and returned emigrants --not to mention Irish-speakers), the drama overturns older screen images of the romantic west. Filmed all over Conamara, An Bronntanas was four years in the planning, with action, gun, explosions and night-time boat rescue storm scenes, (5) making it a very ambitious project for the time and finances allowed. …

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