Michael Lee explores Martin McDonagh’s latest film The Banshees of Inisherin.
The Banshees of Inisherin film marks the return of Irish cinematic powerhouse writer/director Martin McDonagh, who tantalized audiences with his trademark black comedies, including the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges. Even before his forays in cinema, McDonagh established himself as a lauded playwright with blackly comic tales set in early 20th-century Ireland. Indeed Banshees was originally conceived as the concluding part of a trilogy of plays but ultimately evolved into a film.
Banshees sets the stage with a simple premise about a breakup between two friends on the island of Inisherin. One grim morning, without warning, Colm tells Padraic “ I just don’t like you no more.” Padraic can’t make head nor tails of it, it’s rash, without explanation and he finds himself in utter disbelief. Padraic’s left in a crippling state of loneliness and struggles to accept this sudden change. But when Colm threatens to cut his fingers off if Padraic doesn’t leave him alone things take an unexpected turn. It’s the razor-sharp simplicity of the script and the absolute lack of grandiosity that probably makes it a masterpiece.
There’s an authenticity at the heart of film, a quintessential Irishness that honestly has never been seen on screen before. The film portrays a version of Ireland that’s ripe with an emotional and spiritual conflict that many know but is rarely spoken about. There’s a sense of mystery and humour at the heart of Irish misery and tragedy that McDonagh brings to life instinctively. McDonagh wields humour as a weapon, and doles it out sparingly. He never holds back from the bitterest jokes in the darkest moments and there’s a gentleness and ferocious humanity to this that’s incredibly liberating.
McDonagh got the In Bruges boys back together, and let’s just say the band are back. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are a dynamic duo, and their on-screen chemistry is nothing short of precious. Gleeson’s performance as Colm is bolstered by a brutal honesty and stubbornness. He’s a man past his prime clutching desperately at straws for some meaning in the winter of his life. By contrast, Farrell is magnetic as the endearing eejit Padraic, who’s grounded with a sincerity that’s both heartbreaking and hilarious.
McDonagh has crafted a bona fide story about the end of a friendship and in doing so created an entertaining and heartfelt film laden with meaning and purpose. The Banshees of Inisherin explores the values and sentiments of Irish island life in the early 20th century, and does so with unrelenting honesty; it’s because of this that the film reaches near-transcendent heights. The whaling of the Banshee isn’t some supernatural oddity, but it’s no less mysterious, it’s the loneliness of the human soul. There’s no pretentiousness about it, this is a simple film about the struggle to overcome loss. McDonagh’s film, is candid, bleak, and as darkly humorous as Guinness is black. This isn’t some trip to the gift shop filled with hoke Irish cliches. Make no mistake, McDonagh is an honest to God storyteller at the height of his earthly powers and a potent cinematic voice. The greatest Irish film ever made is probably The Field, but with the release of The Banshees of Inisherin that may well have changed.
The Banshees of Inisherin is in cinemas from 21st October 2022.