The Irish Are Coming: Irish Film and Television in 2015

By Flynn, Roddy; Tracy, Tony | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

The Irish Are Coming: Irish Film and Television in 2015


Flynn, Roddy, Tracy, Tony, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Stephen Colbert: "How did I do with your name? 'Sursha'."

Saoirse Ronan: "'Sursha" is perfect. 'Sursha' like inertia.

SC: "What's the worst pronunciation of your name that you've ever had?"

SR: "I've had a lot of 'Sore-sees', 'Suarez', 'Sair-she', 'Sheer-says'...

SC: "You do look a little bit like a Suarez."

The Late Show, 12 January 2016.

Recent months have seen the "absurd" discrepancy between the spelling and pronunciation of Saoirse Ronan's first name repeatedly exploited for comic effect on the American chat show circuit. Before Colbert, Ellen de Generes did it twice (producing cards with Irish names and challenging the audience to guess the correct pronunciation) while Jimmy Fallon couldn't avoid referring to the Ronan's brogue during a Tonight Show appearance in November 2015. Behind the cheap laughs, however, these exchange simply that US audiences need to get used to Irish accents and idioms (Interview magazine featured a similar encounter between Domhnall Gleeson and Angelina Jolie), pointing to a 'mainstreaming' of young Irish actors and--perhaps--Irish film within the US entertainment firmament. (1)

This 'greening' owes much to the critical success and extensive coverage afforded two recent Irish films--the screen adaptations of Brooklyn and, to a lesser extent, Room (reviewed in this year's edition by Pat Brereton and Eileen Culloty respectively)--although for a variety of reasons, Saoirse has proven the more marketable personality. In the case of Brooklyn, the remarkable success of Colm Toibin's novel was replicated by John Crowley's screen version. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015, a carefully planned festival release strategy built critical momentum over nine months, paying dividends on the US and UK awards circuits, most notably for Saoirse Ronan's central performance as Eilis.

The comparable success of Lenny Abrahamson's Room (the nomination of Abrahamson in Best Director category in some senses outshone Brooklyn's considerable achievements) came as a late bonus given that the film didn't receive a world premiere (notably at Telluride, not Dublin) until September 2015. Both films featured prominently among the nominees for the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, the New Film Critics Awards and, of course the Academy Awards. When Colin Welland, on receiving the Best Screenplay Oscar for Chariots of Fire in 1982, famously proclaimed that "the British are Coming", he could only point to that single film. In 2016, the Oscar nominations created a hitherto unimaginable scenario: two Irish films vying not only in the Best Actress Category but also for the high status and financially critical Best Picture Oscar. The Irish, it would seem, have arrived. // So overwhelming has the critical praise and coverage of these films been that they have all but eclipsed other films produced in Ireland over the past year and become, inevitably perhaps, the benchmarks by which such films are measured. Notwithstanding their extraordinary achievements, Brooklyn and Room nevertheless raise provocative issues around the definition and ambitions of Irish cinema in 2016. (Along with the not-yet unreleased Viva--a Cuba-set Spanish language film shortlisted as Ireland's entry in the Best Foreign Language category). While Room can unproblematically be identified as Irish at a production level, led by director Lenny Abrahamson and producer Ed Guiney (and substantial development and production funding from the Irish Film Board),the setting and characters are unequivocally North American. Outside Ireland, some media coverage has referred to the film as Canadian, reflecting Guiney's creative exploitation of screenwriter Emma Donoghue's dual Irish/Canadian citizenship to access Canadian funding. (The film is adapted from Donoghue's novel). In this regard it's worth recalling that the previous Abrahamson/Guiney collaboration, Frank (2014) had scarcely any textual relationship to Ireland at all (bar a brief stop-over for the band) and while two of its principle actors were Irish--Michael Fassbinder and Domhnall Gleeson--they were cast as American and British characters respectively. …

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