“The Banshees of Inisherin is perhaps McDonagh’s most Shakespearean story disguised as an Irish folk tale, and while the film’s humble and miniature tone hides its grand scope, the rapid-fire dialogue and colourful characters should go a long way with audiences.”
Towards the beginning and the end of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, main characters walk past a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary. They are shot in a way that gives the impression they are under the protection of the Holy Mother. Religion plays an important part on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin, just off the coast of the mainland; the local pub is perhaps even more important. A story about male friendship gone awry and the importance of good conversation, The Banshees of Inisherin is perhaps McDonagh’s most Shakespearean story disguised as an Irish folk tale, and while the film’s humble and miniature tone hides its grand scope, the rapid-fire dialogue and colourful characters should go a long way with audiences. And as always with McDonagh, there will be blood…
Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is at wits’ end. Overnight his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) has decided that he doesn’t want to talk to Pádraic anymore because he finds him, put bluntly, boring. To his local priest Colm admits bouts of despair, and he has become preoccupied with cementing his legacy. He has begun writing a folk song to leave the world something to remember him by, and he feels he can’t waste his time on idle chatting with Pádraic anymore lest that stand in the way of achieving his goals. Pádraic doesn’t take this lying down, and he tries everything in his limited power to change his friend’s mind. Colm is having none of it though, and he threatens that he will cut off a finger for every time that Pádraic bothers him. Once the first finger hits the front door of the little cottage Pádraic occupies with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), a woman clearly too smart and forward-thinking for the small community, it is clear Colm means serious business. Will Pádraic be able to turn their friendship around, or will the stubbornness of both men make it go up in flames?
The fact that McDonagh can create a very entertaining two-hour film out of a petty feud between two men in which one doesn’t want to speak to the other anymore is no mean feat, but despite the simplicity of its premise The Banshees of Inisherin is deeper than the waters between the island and the mainland. The film is set during the Irish Civil War fought in the early 1920s on that same mainland, a backdrop we are reminded of by the odd explosion in the distance or the casual talk of executions. It is an obvious metaphor for the conflict between Pádraic and Colm, but it shows there is more to the film than meets the eye. McDonagh clearly values the importance of a good and honest conversation, as opposed to all the gossip going around the island, and the power of male friendship. If we don’t nurture this, the Irish playwright seems to say, things could get very ugly.
Elsewhere The Banshees of Inisherin highlights the secondary position of women in these close-knit patriarchal (because deeply religious) communities. Condon’s Siobhán is a woman whose talents obviously outshine those of any of her male counterparts, but when she makes her desire to leave the island clear to her brother his first reaction is to ask who will do the cooking. The feisty Siobhán is the liveliest role in the film, and Condon repeatedly steals the film from under Farrell and Gleeson’s noses. In part this is because Gleeson’s Colm is a taciturn man and Farrell’s Pádraic is a simple man who, to be fair, is indeed quite boring. This isn’t to say that both actors don’t shine in their muted roles, Farrell in particular giving his character a sweet earnestness in trying to win his friend back. The only other role of note, Barry Keoghan’s simpleton son of the abusive local police officer, has enough nuance to allow Keoghan to infuse his Dominic with a tender humanity. A special mention goes to Sheila Flitton as Mrs. McCormick, a crone that more or less resembles a witch straight out of Macbeth, and not just because she predicts two deaths during the film.
The male characters have a Shakespearean sadness written into them anyway. Flawed, proud men who would rather burn the world than admit mistakes, Colm and Pádraic’s feud tears at the seams of the community’s fabric. All this under the nose of the Virgin Mary, which should give a hint as to how this film ends despite the threats flying about between the two men. It is one of many subtle layers woven into the story, which has ample place for humour too (there was plenty of bellowing laughter during this morning’s press screening). The Banshees of Inisherin is a small story on the surface but with a large humanistic scope, perhaps too specific in time and setting (a plus if you’re into Irish music) to make a true dent, and by no means a major film, but another fine entry in McDonagh’s oeuvre.