DIR: Dathaí Keane • WRI: Marcus Fleming • PRO: Pierce Boyce, Eileen Seoighe, Brid Seoighe • CAST: Owen McDonnell, Julian Black Antelope, Dara Devaney, Robert O’Mahoney, Sean T O’Meallaigh
The rich history of the Irish diaspora is tapped into by Abu Media’s new feature film, An Klondike, a bilingual western, which opened at the Eye cinema recently. Directed by Dathaí Keane, it tells the story of three Irish brothers who become involved in the gold prospecting hysteria of the late 19th century in the north-west of the American continent.
The story opens with Seamus Connolly getting caught stealing while working in a Montana mine. He is soon bailed out by his father’s friend Bear, who subsequently gives Seamus and his brothers deeds to a plot near the Klondike River in Yukon territory. Its exact location is protected by a coded map.
Shortly after, Seamus absconds with both valuables, leaving his brothers Padraig and Tom in pursuit. The action moves to one of many fast growing towns of the era, Dominion, where the economy is generated by a thriving gold industry. Seamus carelessly gambles his assets with local businessman, Jacob Hopkins. This leads to a series of altercations between the pair, which culminate in a bloody duel. Hopkins’ father arrives in town and the story moves to Seamus’ purchase of a local hotel with Hopkins’ help.
Meanwhile, Tom, having caught up with Seamus, decodes the map with the help of a Native American and locates the plot nearby. He begins setting up his mining enterprise. A simmering love sub-plot involves Seamus and Kate Mulyran, a Cork emigrant engaged to the Mountie who tries to keep law and order in Dominion.
The realities of the ‘American dream’ for many emigrants are quickly exposed in the film. A scene of Tom blindly hammering a wall of rock evoked the gamble such prospecting actually entailed. With the focus on gold, the theme of greed is inevitably prominent and many characters are motivated by ‘owning half the town’, as Tom puts it.
Seamus’ behaviour is the driving force of the film. His impatience when he arrives in Dominion sets up the conflict with Hopkins. His interest in the Mountie’s fiancé creates the romantic angle, while he constantly antagonises his brother Tom. The economy of a town like Dominion is given sharp focus. Seamus is charged $10 to sleep at a table and sending a telegram can cost even more.
Many of the ’Western’ genre stereotypes are incorporated; guns at the hip, love triangles involving the law, considerable whiskey consumption, the ubiquitous dream of fast cash amongst an influx of cultures. The movie mainly plays out as Gaeilge, which does create a patriotic ‘little Ireland’ feel to the town.
The concept is a fascinating one; three brothers with a map leading to gold in the land of opportunity. The visuals are very impressive, the town construction is convincing and production design is detailed throughout.
An Klondike does get somewhat tangled in its array of sub-plots. While in the context of the film, they arguably contribute to Seamus’ journey, the dialogue and the characters he interacts with could have been drawn deeper. Bear, who initially gives the brothers the map, seemed interesting and deserved further development. Padraig never becomes hugely significant as the film unfolds. More time was needed for a number of key scenes, such as the opening mine robbery and the scheming of Hopkins’ father, whose single-minded material greed called for greater exploitation.
Some of the saloon scenes were enjoyable and might have been integrated better with the overall plot. There was an over-reliance on the familiar ‘Western’ devices and a hesitance to engage with more original techniques of telling the story.
However, An Klondike is a pictorial treat and certainly an excellent effort at drawing light on the Irish emigrants of the region and period. For fans of the genre looking for an Irish flavour, it is well worth a look.
15A (See IFCO for details)