Dale Kearney investigates Irish Crime Drama The Black Guelph

Making his debut in the realm of feature-length fiction, John Connors steps behind the camera to direct The Black Guelph. Diving into a fully fledged narrative film after gaining directorial experience with short films and a documentary, Connors ambitiously tackles the rough and tough subject matter of generational trauma. With co-writer, Tiernan Williams, the duo tell a story that places religion and crime at the forefront; putting the former on trial, while partying into the night with the latter.

Kanto (Graham Earley) is the head honcho of a drug ring, dishing out orders to his younger dealers and reaping the rewards of having an abundant supply whenever he desires. While to most he’s seen as top dog, especially around his gang, he finds himself on his knees begging for one more chance from his pregnant girlfriend, Leah (Lauren Larkin), who is trying to keep their young daughter away from Kanto’s dodgy business.

As if Kanto hasn’t got enough on his plate, his absent father, Dan (Paul Roe), arrives back into the picture, trying to reconcile with his son, while bringing his own issues to the table. Having shown up out of the blue, Dan vows to be a better father to his estranged son, but is also trying to help to Virgil, a college student who lives on a barge with his widowed mother.

The Black Guelph weaves two narratives together, father and son, and draws strong parallels to The Place Beyond the Pines. Although this offering manipulates time in a different manner; using flashbacks to Dan’s childhood, the film implements a similar use of “cause and effect” to The Place Beyond the Pines. In terms of themes, Connors casts a wide net, diving into the fallout of homelessness, fatherhood, and child abuse. However, as a result, the film can feel overrun with so much going on, not focusing on one section long enough to feel wholly invested. This is a shame because Dan’s storyline is so strong, as a man trying his hardest to break from the shackles of a life of crime.

Graham Earley plays Kanto in an extremely convincing manner, as king of the Dublin flats. The opening thrusts us into Kanto’s domain, where his office is the closest street corner he can find to make an exchange. His despicable nature really leans into the wrong choices he makes as a character, having total disregard for his family, constantly asking for forgiveness rather than permission. However, the main star of the show has to be Paul Roe, giving a totally devastating performance as a guilt-ridden man, doing whatever he can to be the best version of himself. There’s a vulnerability and tenderness behind Dan’s eyes, a stark contrast to Kanto, who you can only think has done this to himself.

It has to be said, that even though a cold colour grading coats this grim and bleak story, the cinematography from Carl Quinn shines through in a glorious fashion to complement that sliver of hope. Shooting on location in authentic Dublin suburbs really adds to the tactile feel the production team has crafted. It feels like Dublin, and most certainly looks like Dublin.

With the sheer abundance of story all jam-packed into this two-hour feature, it can seem like the bloodstream has been clogged by too many drugs in its system, causing the pulse to race faster than usual. Yet the beating heart of this film is the performances from Paul and Graham. For fans of Love/Hate and Cardboard Gangsters, The Black Guelph will satisfy your craving for an Irish crime drama, however, Dan’s heart-rending story will be grabbing your attention more than the shady life of Kanto.

Available to stream online now. 

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