Oh, St. Patrick, without doubt my favourite of all the patron saints. It’s also the only day we bother to actually celebrate, perhaps because it’s a chance to get royally drunk on Guinness, or maybe it’s just because we all love the Irish and this is our way to celebrate such an affable culture, and thank them for their contribution to all of our respective societies. Not only as people, but through cinema, too.
This year on St Paddy’s night, naturally as you walked (or stumbled) around the streets of London, the landscape was adorned with green banners, and those really annoying big Guinness hats many like to wear, often complete with fake ginger beards. This year it was particularly special, for Ireland won the Six Nations, completing the Grand Slam on the very day itself. Things, as you can imagine, got rather messy. In London, I reside in the North West, in an area called Cricklewood which has a large Irish settlement, one of the very biggest in the whole of London in fact, matched only by Clapham in the South. The community enriches the neighbourhood, and if you want good boiled bacon then look no further. It’s a culture the Brits have an affinity towards and much of that has come through the prism of the arts, through TV series and films alike.
One of the very greatest of all the TV shows has to Father Ted, a sitcom so special, I even took a pilgrimage to County Clare in Ireland two years ago, and visited the set of which the show is set. It’s not quite Craggy Island, but it’s not far off. There’s a distinct, congenial wit to the show, a certain warmth and a self-deprecative form of humour that Brits respond to as viewers, and have adopted ourselves in our own comedic offerings – not to mention the fantastic, surrealistic elements of the show. The Irish have a remarkable, almost meta approach to their humour, evidently aware of what it is about their own culture, and in this case, that of the Catholic Church, audiences may find endearingly humorous – and it’s all in the deadpan delivery.
This self-referential approach extends to the silver screen too, and transcends comedy too, as the Catholic Church was also explored and scrutinised over in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, while he was also behind The Guard, while his brother Martin offered the world the excellent In Bruges. Yet while renowned for their humour (not many tell a joke like the Irish do), on dramatic terms there have been some incredible productions, be it The Crying Game or Steve McQueen’s Hunger. It’s also a nation renowned for their musical inclination, and that too has provided the landscape, and soundtrack, for many a film to flourish, whether it be Once, The Commitments, or more recently, the excellent Sing Street.
So what is it about these films we love so much, and allows for them to resonate so closely with us? Perhaps it’s because the Irish are well renowned travellers, they are people of the world, which in turns enhances their widespread accessibility on screen. They find homes in all corners of the world, and when two prominent destinations happen to be New York City and London, it can’t not have an imprint on the arts and entertainment, given both cities are such hubs in that regard. A film that displays this more so than others in recent years is the exceptional, Oscar-nominated drama Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan. In fact, it was even on the telly over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and I admit to not only watching it but crying the whole way through. Just like I did the other three times I’ve seen it.