Director Stephen Frears to take part in Fastnet Film Festival 2017

Stephen Frears

Stephen Frears, unanimously regarded as one of Britain’s finest directors, will screen his 2 most recent Feature Films in Schull during the Festival, The Programme and Florence Foster Jenkins followed by a Q&A with Greg Dyke.

The Fastnet Film Festival which will take place in Schull fromWednesday the 24th to the Sunday the 28th of May 2017, is a major showcase for Irish and International short film production. It focuses on the craft of film and has been held in high regard on a local, national and international level for several years.  The festival will run a series of Seminars, Masterclasses and Workshops covering, Lighting, Screenwriting, Casting, Auditioning, Score Composing, Film Ethics, Filming Conflict, Animation, Creating Content on Your Mobile, Set Design, Short to Feature, Costume and more. Also, featured at the festival will be in excess of 400 screenings, Local Interest Films and World Cinema Programmes.

Other guests taking part include: David Puttnam, Juanita Wilson, Jim Sheridan, Joan Bergin, Lenny Abrahamson, Joan Bergin, Kevin Brownlow, and Carl Davis. The line up this year is unprecedented with over 70 expert guests. Fringe events include the Long Island Cinema, Filmmkers Hub, CornerTalk, Live music, Drama, Movie Quiz, Café viewing, Silent Cinemas, high quality free family entertainment and much more.

Stpehen Frears made his name in TV drama for the first 15 years of his career, turning to cinema, shooting ‘The Hit’ starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth, then, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ for Channel 4, which crossed over to the big-screen. After directing ‘Sammy and Rosie Get Laid’, and ‘Prick up Your Ears’, he began working in Hollywood with ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and ‘The Grifters’. Returning closer to home, he directed ‘The Snapper’, ‘The Van’, ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ and ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’. Nominated for a second Oscar with ‘The queen’ in 2006 and 4 Oscar nominations for ‘Philomena’. His most recent films being screened at the festival The Program and nominated for 2 Oscars, Florence Foster Jenkins and in post-production Victoria and Abdul.

Friday 26th 20.00 – 22.00 Palace Cinema

Screening of ‘The Program’ 143 mins, 2015

Directed by Multi Award Winning Stephen Frears (Florence Foster Jenkins, The Queen, Philomena, the Van, The Snapper etc), comes the true story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most controversial men, Lance Armstrong. Following a gruelling battle with cancer, Lance returned to cycling in 1999. Team director Johan Bruyneel developed the most sophisticated doping program in the history of the sport, allowing Lance and his teammates win The Tour an unprecedented seven times.

Sunday Times journalist, David Walsh cost The Sunday Times, hundreds of thousands of euro in legal bills, eventually uncovering the truth. Featuring a stellar cast Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet and Jesse Plemons, THE PROGRAM is thriller full of suspense. €5

Sunday 28th 15.00 – 17.00 Palace Cinema

Screening of Florence Foster Jenkins Directed by Stephen Frears

111mins 2016

Starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant the film tells the improbable story of, a real-life New York socialite, who pronounced herself a coloratura soprano despite a distinct lack of talent. An affectionate portrait of the elderly heiress, her aspirations and her illusions as singer and lover. Money goes a long way toward bolstering any delusion, and in 1944 Jenkins bought her way to Carnegie Hall, performing an awful concert that became the stuff of legend.

Hugh Grant plays her romantic partner and enabler, St. Clair Bayfield, who pays off critics, making sure her recitals are packed with only sympathetic ears and tucks her into bed at night before running off to his mistress (Rebecca Ferguson).


PDF of the Full programme available online


Stephen Frears @ NUI Galway

Stephen Frears kicks off his visit to NUI Galway today with a screening of Philomena, which Frears will  discuss alongside his previous work in an extended guest session on Thursday. His visit culminates with a filmmaking workshop on Friday, 6th November.

Wednesday, November 4th, 5.30pm Main Room, Huston School, NUI Galway.

Philomena is based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith. Starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, it tells the true story of Philomena Lee’s 50-year-long search for her forcibly adopted son, and Sixsmith’s efforts to help her find him. The film was nominated in four categories at the 86th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Coogan and Pope, Best Actress for Dench, and Best Original Score for Desplat.


Thursday, November 5th, 2.30pm Main Room, Huston School, NUI Galway.
Stephen Frears

Frears has directed many critically acclaimed British, American and Irish feature films since the 1980s including My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity,The Queen, including two written by Roddy Doyle – The Snapper and The Van. Stephen Frears will discuss Philomena and his previous work in an extended guest session. Please RSVP:


Thursday, November 5th, 5.30pm Main Room, Huston School, NUI Galway.
The Program

An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong’s performances during the Tour de France victories are fuelled by banned substances. With this conviction, he starts hunting for evidence that will expose Armstrong.


Friday, November 6th, 10.0am Main Room, Huston School, NUI Galway.
Stephen Frears – Filmmaking workshop

This workshop is intended primarily for students on the Screenwriting, Production & Direction, Film Studies MA programmes. If there are others with filmmaking experience who wish to participate please email requests for attendance to


Review: The Program


DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: John Hodge • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seaward, Kate Solomon • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Alex Heffes • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Stapleton, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet


Despite years of persistent allegations and categorical denials of taking performance-enhancing drugs, when the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2012 found that Lance Armstrong’s career was not only punctuated by drug use but that he was also the mastermind behind one of the most systematic doping programmes cycling had ever seen, it hardly sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world. For his most ardent fans, however, it was the tangled web of deceit, woven on the back of a seemingly insurmountable battle with cancer to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, that was the ultimate betrayal. Acclaimed filmmaker Alex Gibney laid bare such perennial cat-and-mouse games between the media and the ignominious cyclist in his fly-on-the-wall documentary The Armstrong Lie in 2013, which not only challenged audiences’ perception of honesty but also ruffled Gibney’s own objectives in uncovering the ultimate truth, such was the conviction of the fabulist’s own sympathetic narrative.

British director Stephen Frears’ dramatization The Program, is not a fictional recounting of Gibney’s documentary but is rather an adaptation from David Walsh’s book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the myth-busting sports journalist who spent years trailing the untouchable myth-maker of cycling. Starring Ben Foster as the mercurial champion and Chris O’Dowd as the Irish crusading newshound, Frears’ bio-drama delves into one of the most professionally orchestrated doping programmes in sport, which for almost two decades seemingly hoodwinked the UCI, the media and a legion of fans to allow Armstrong to become one of the greatest cyclists of the twentieth century.

Structuring the narrative around the intricate operations of the doping racket, which began with Armstrong’s first 1999 Tour win to his public fall from grace in 2009, The Program races through the cyclist’s biography at a thumping, cyclonic rate. Charging through his early formative years, from an unknown but cocksure competitor to a testicular cancer diagnosis that should have halted his obdurate ambition but led to an unrivalled golden age of victory, until a restless retirement and doomed comeback exposed the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs. Executing the hyperactivity of a whirlwind career blighted by controversy and suspicion, The Program pulsates with furious pace, explosive energy and a razor-sharp visual style. Mirroring the real-life saga itself, the film’s intensity, evoked through a seductively luminous aesthetic, on the one hand gleams with the electrifying heat of inexorable bravado, while unpredictable, obscure camera angles jerk from a ferociously fidgety lens with a tour de force that shatters the mood, abruptly suspending the narrative in a directionless, disconcerting limbo.

If Gibney stands accused of becoming too emotionally embroiled in the complexity of Armstrong’s sophisms resulting in a somewhat tangled narrative, Frears has no such qualms in keeping a safe emotional distance, allowing the absurdity of the Armstrong character to unfold in accordance with the prevailing mythology constructed by the man himself. Refraining from judgment, not even through the moral compass of nemesis David Walsh, disappointingly played by a miscast Chris O’Dowd, who never appears hungry enough in catching his man, Frears is fully cognizant of the potency of the Armstrong myth, never allowing fiction to blur fact, when the facts themselves are potent enough. With the benefit of hindsight through Armstrong’s public confession, Foster relishes in the creation of a calculating, superhuman monster, avoiding any descent into caricature, simply because he does not need to, his compulsive, full-bodied performance interchangeable with the real-life construction of a man so familiar to audiences through his own manipulation of the media.

Although the film honours the chronology of the doping programme, the ‘EPG generation’, and Italian physician Michele Ferrari’s pivotal role in the scheme, it is the ambitious arrogance without compunction with which Armstrong perpetuated the myth, in full awareness of his role as a cancer survivor, champion and cultural icon, which ultimately defines the cyclist’s narrative. Foster paints an unambiguous, one-dimensional portrait, eliminating any sympathetic characteristics Gibney may have perceived, to illustrate a deeply calculating and smugly charming man, whose overriding fear of failure motivated a ruthless modus operandi of recurring lawsuits, silencing his detractors for almost two decades. Foster’s portrayal becomes so destructive and poisoned because Frears perceives Armstrong’s egotistical actions were destructive and poisoned, his manipulative tactics in competitive sport no different to his strategy in gaining public sympathy and support for his charitable work. Gibney’s flawed hero has now become Frears’ shameless and disingenuous anti-hero, moving from empathy to disgust and it is the audience who feel the most uncomfortable.

While Gibney’s attempts to unearth the truth behind the lies still evoked sympathy towards the fallen champion, Frears’ film serves as a reminder to its audience of its own flaws, taunting those who perpetuated the myth through an obsession with the cult of celebrity. Frears implies the Armstrong myth endured because those who deified the fraudster allowed it to do so. Foster’s performance is so compelling because in its entire monstrosity, it touches a raw nerve, not only exposing the feebleness of the man but more particularly, the feebleness of those who championed him. Frears points the finger as much at a gushing audience as he does at the make-up of a highly flawed man, the irony not lost that his mythical 2009 comeback came on the back of such highly-charged adoration as much as ego, ultimately leading to his final downfall.

Those familiar with Gibney’s documentary may be slightly disappointed that Frears does not take any new perspective into the prevailing Armstrong narrative nor offer fresh insight into the psyche of the man behind the painstakingly moulded mask. His complicated personal relationships remain closely guarded and The Program instead is about culture’s love affair with celebrity as much as it is about Lance Armstrong’s love affair with himself and success. The film doesn’t romanticise, condemn or exaggerate the mythical hero for dramatic purposes but rather aims to expose a truth, which Gibney could not quite infiltrate. Thanks to Armstrong’s manipulation of the media, he himself has constructed the brutal and ugly portrayal that Foster assumes in The Program. There is no room for compassion towards the truculent cyclist, who used his battle with illness to deceive the integrity of competitive sports and particularly the integrity of adoring fans, whose faith in Armstrong’s successes should have been a source of inspiration but instead has left them feeling exceptionally cheated and fundamentally flawed themselves.

Dee O’Donoghue


15A (See IFCO for details)

 103 minutes

The Program is released 16th October 2015

The Program – Official Website



Cinema Review: Philomena


DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Charlie Murphy, Simone Lahbib

Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a “little old Irish lady”, enlists the help of cynical journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), to search for her son. Philomena gave birth to Anthony at the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, from where he was given away for adoption without his mother’s permission.  Philomena kept his birth a secret for 50 years, and the time has come to tell her story and find her son.


Philomena, as a film, is a remarkable achievement by all concerned, balancing humour, unexpected of its bleak tale, with an appropriate sense of anger. It’s also unafraid to ask bigger questions. Where to begin, to sing its praises?


Steve Coogan co-wrote the excellent screenplay with Jeff Pope, adapting Sixsmith’s 2009 book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Winning an award at Venice for their efforts, they have crafted a script that succeeds on many levels. It centres emotionally on Philomena’s longing to find out what happened to her son, her anguish at what might have become of him, worrying about whether or not he has ended up homeless, whether he might be alone or a junkie on the streets somewhere. This thread remains the heart of the film.


Philomena and Martin form an unlikely pairing as their inquiries take them back to Ireland and elsewhere. As a BBC correspondent working in Washington and Russia, Martin is used to hard news, travelling first class, and dealing with political horse trading. Philomena had worked as a nurse for 30 years and is used to a far plainer lifestyle. Martin’s cynicism contrasts with Philomena’s gullibility, and the clash of class, cultures and expectations provides much of the film’s warm humour.


Philomena’s story is, of course, a “human interest” piece, filled with heartrending drama. Not knowing what happened her son could end in tearful happiness or sadness. Either way, it will make good reading that Martin’s editor seeks to exploit. The film might also be accused of sensationalising its material, milking Philomena’s story for for its emotional worth, but the witty script acknowledges this in the way it incorporates Martin’s attitude both to his editor and to the distinction between hard and soft news. It’s a mark of the film’s ingenuity.


Steve Coogan contributes a commendable performance as Martin Sixsmith. The film opens with Martin attending the doctor, depressed following his dismissal as a government spin doctor, fired for something he didn’t say. His suggestion that he will write books on Russian history fails to impress his acquaintances, and he takes on Philomena’s story, seeing how easily and clichéd it would play out. As writer and performer, Coogan’s brings to his role aspects of his incarnation as Alan Partridge, sceptical and disparaging of popular journalism. But the film makes clear how such human stories are rooted in failures of institutions such as the Roscrea abbey. Martin’s anger as an outsider contrasts with Philomena’s more human approach to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings and the nuns’ actions.


As Philomena, Judi Dench triumphs in a performance of subtle brilliance. Early in the film, she has little to say, but her wrinkled face registers Philomena’s anguish and concern. Often, she has little more to do than stare through a window as she remembers her time in Roscrea, glances at her daughter, feigns a laugh at Martin’s odd humour, but, through such small gestures, Dench makes Philomena her own, conveying the depths to which her worries have taken her. Essaying a convincing Irish accent, Dench has fun recounting longwinded summaries of inane romantic fiction. Philomena’s decision to seek out her son conflicts with the shame and guilt she feels as a result of the sins she committed. She struggles with the sin of having a child in the circumstances that she did and the sin of then keeping it secret. Dench excels in such a complex role.


In The Snapper, director Stephen Frears successfully captured the wicked Irish sense of humour, telling the tale of Sharon Curley’s pregnancy. In Philomena, he deals with far weightier themes. Martin and Philomena discuss their beliefs in god, and Martin tries to understand Philomena’s continued Catholic faith despite the nuns’ actions. She realizes that the adoption may have meant her son lived a life that she couldn’t have provided for him, while Martin argues that the nuns’ may have done what they did in pursuit of a profit, exploiting Philomena’s labour in the Magdalene laundry. The film is a brisk 98 minutes, but it’s dense and packs in a lot in its short running time. Frears succeeds in combining the solemn dramatic undertones with seriously good entertainment.


The figure of the nun has recently become something of a cinematic trope, representing fear, terror and unjust behaviour. The Magdalene Sisters played more like a horror film with no trace of the musical innocence of The Sound of Music or Sister Act. In Philomena, the abbey, a stark white building, looms into view as Martin’s BMW drives into the gardens under an iron archway. Sister Hildegard cuts an ominous figure as she glares out of the window in flashbacks. The film allows Sister Hildegard to defend the nuns’ actions, but it is likely to provoke anger. The teachings and morals she professes may once have dominanted Irish society, but they now ring hollow. The film’s presentation of the abbey and “evil nuns” feeds into the prevailing conception of the laundries as the Irish gulag system.


Philomena clearly deals with heavy issues, but deft direction, a skilful script, and, above all, adroit acting make for sophisticated entertainment that manages to amuse as much as it will enrage.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)

97 mins

Philomena is released on 1st November 2013




Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe

DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: Moira Buffini • PRO: Alison Owen, Tracey Seaward, Paul Trijbits • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Mick Audsley • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Tamsin Greig, Bill Camp

Tamara Drewe is set in a quaint, sleepy English village. Although I don’t know if anybody actually gets any sleep there because both village and film are filled to bursting with a variety of characters all clamouring for attention, not all getting it, not all deserving it. Tamara Drewe herself is one of the least interesting. Tamara, forgettably played by Gemma Arterton, has returned to the village where she grew up to sell her mother’s house and she immediately sparks with her old boyfriend Andy (Luke Evans).

Meanwhile Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig) runs a writers’ retreat with her crime novelist husband Nicholas (Roger Allam) and has just discovered his infidelity. Beth’s story is far more successfully told than Tamara’s. She is very well played by Greig as a woman who is far too intelligent to long accept a life of comfortable denial. Her growing friendship with American academic Glen (Bill Camp) is nicely observed as is the rivalry between Glen and Nicholas. They play a game of snide one-gunmanship, of commercial success versus academic achievement. Allam is wonderfully repulsive but just charismatic enough for his cheating to be believable. It also helps Beth’s story that she is surrounded by a gang of eccentric writers. By the time Tamara meets up with self-obsessed indie-rocker Ben Sherman (Dominic Cooper) you’ll be screaming ‘What happened to Bronagh Gallager’s lesbian novelist?’ Sure she’s a stereotype, but then almost everyone in this movie is and she does it so well.

But the film insists on focusing on the most boring love triangle in history as Tamara is pursued by Andy and Ben. And in case we don’t know who to root for the film makes that decision for us. Swoon, ladies and gentlemen, as we see Andy making rustic fences with his shirt off, watch him picking wild mushrooms for breakfast and know what a good provider he will be, and gasp in awe as he offers – offers! – to look over colour charts. Arterton doesn’t give us any insight into Tamara’s motivations, Cooper is equally dull, and the plotline runs out of steam after about two minutes.

Frears’ direction is lush and the film is certainly nice to look at. It would probably make good viewing for a rainy afternoon. After all there is, literally, a good story in here. I suggest you wait for the DVD release, make a nice cup of tea and enjoy Beth Hardiment. You’ll find it in your video store under T.

Geoff McEvoy

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Tamara Drewe
is released on 10th September 2010

Tamara Drewe Official Website


Dingle Honours Frears

Oscar®-nominated director Stephen Frears is to be the recipient of this year’s Dingle Film Festival The Gregory Peck Award: For Excellence in the Art of Film.

The director’s films include The Queen, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Van and My Beautiful Launderette. He has also won a BAFTA for Dangerous Liaisons and his TV adaptation of The Snapper.

Frears will be in Dingle on Saturday 20th March to accept the award at a special ceremony at Dingle’s Phoenix Cinema. The ceremony will be hosted by Dingle Film Festival director Maurice Galway and will include an interview with Stephen Frears.

Gabriel Byrne and Jim Sheridan are previous recipients of the Gregory Peck Award, which recognises special achievements in filmmaking and was established in conjunction with Gregory Peck’s family.

The festival runs 18-21 March. For further information, please click here,