Mick Jordan looks up at Pat Collins’ adaptation of the John McGahern novel.

Barry Ward and Anna Bederke play Joe and Kate, a couple who have returned to Joe’s family farm to make a new life for themselves. Through them we see the old life of the local community embedded deep in the heart of 1980s Ireland.  Kate is an artist, part owner of a gallery back in London while Joe is a writer trying to get started on a new novel.  “Does anything happen in this one?” asks Patrick, a sharp tongued bachelor farmer.  This could of course be taken as a comment on the film itself where what happens is the simple everyday.   There is a wedding, there is a funeral, there are lots of events but they are all incidental.  They are just the means of telling the stories of the people they are happening to.  Because that’s what this film is, it’s a film about people, who are naturally the most fascinating subjects of all.   

Some of their stories are told in just a couple of sentences.  At one point Joe explains the eccentric behaviour of one elderly man by revealing that he had the misfortune to be born in Ireland of parents who weren’t married.  In that simple comment we can work out the entire life story of someone who we are already familiar with – but now understand.  He, and everyone else in the village, have the constant need to keep up a front and to always present their best self.  Another man describes every new degrading drop in his circumstances as “being on the pig’s back” “it’s all A1 for me from now on, completely alphabetical” and Joe assures him “Sounds like you’ve certainly landed on your feet so” – knowing full well he hasn’t.  Even Patrick who declares “I tell the truth and apologise to no-one” still has a front of his own, which he only lets slip in a moment of grief stricken rage.  But for all that, these are good lives, there are moments of humour and celebration and there is always the sense of a community, coming together in good times and bad.

With so much going on under the surface the performances need to be particularly strong and the film has a cast of veterans only too willing to take on some of the richest roles in their careers.  Lalor Roddy, Ruth McCabe, Seán McGinley, Brendan Conroy etc. etc. – all excellent actors with great bodies of work already, give their all in a perfect ensemble while Barry Ward and Anna Bederke are essentially standing in for us, and do an excellent job of it.  Their playing really draws us into their world and when there is the possibility that they might have to return to living in London it feels like a real threat.  Joe and Kate are not just observers of the community, they are very much part of it, never more so than in the deeply moving scenes around the afore-mentioned funeral of one much-loved member.

Having already made a celebrated documentary on John McGahern, Pat Collins was always going to be the right director to make this film but his own distinctive style makes him an ideal choice as well.  Simply put, he makes films the way John McGahern wrote books and this is the most perfectly matched pairing of author to filmmaker since William Trevor and Pat O’Connor.  In previous films like Silence and Song of Granite Collins has already proved that he doesn’t need a major plot to make a really good film.  Here he has managed to make a great one.

That They May Face the Rising Sun is in cinemas from 26th April 2024.


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