← Back to Reviews

The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin - 2022

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Written by Martin McDonagh

Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon & Barry Keoghan

Some films can be about nothing but sadness, and can contain everything about sadness, anger and hate - but when we watch them we feel gloriously uplifted. Why is that? Perhaps, when we see something that obviously understands sadness and anger so very well, we know for sure that there's an escape through self-knowledge, wisdom, experience - and metaphor. I say that because The Banshees of Inisherin uplifts me, no matter how much I empathise with it's two sad, warring parties Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson). Two isolated Irish islanders enacting their own small civil war as the real, explosive one between the Irish Provisional Government and IRA rages on the mainland. A happy place suddenly turning overnight into a cold and desolate landscape where witches roam the moors, and the sound of distant explosions far away speak of worse trouble elsewhere. It doesn't sound beautiful and wonderful, but Banshees somehow is.

Pádraic is a nice kind of fellow who is suddenly rejected by old friend Colm overnight, simply because Colm has decided Pádraic is too dull to waste time with - he wants to compose music, and leave something tangible behind instead of wasting the rest of his life with idle chit-chat. It's at once both understandable and outrageous, and I find myself swinging between those two very different reactions to his attitude. Pádraic sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), whom he lives with, takes issue with Colm - but she also seems to have been coming to terms with how awful most of the islanders are, and has already initiated her plan of escape from the desolate and unfriendly Inisherin. Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), a simple, troubled boy, becomes Pádraic's default new friend. Dominic is beaten, and apparently sexually abused, by his father, Garda Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon). As Pádraic's pleas and efforts to restart the friendship meet with a more and more stern reaction, Colm threatens to cut off his own fingers in a shocking escalation to the trouble between them, and the consequences of this cause their own hurt and tragedy.

Honestly, on paper it sounds terrible (if interesting), but the stunning work by all filmmakers on the truly eye-wateringly green and verdantly beautiful Inishmore turn it into a sight to behold, and a very poetic and winsome work of fiction and cinema. The Ben David cinematography makes the absolute most of Inishmore's jagged and cold terrain and old buildings, making for a very nice departure from Marvel action blockbusters. Carter Burwell's Oscar-nominated score wins me over by not going for Irish pastiche, instead opting for a more tuneful, light and melodic accompaniment to the troubles that accompany our wanderings in Inisherin. It eases the burden of the pain these characters carry around. Sight and sound combined bring a certain peace that helps ground the rumblings of discontent. How can a place that looks so cool, peaceful and idyllic give birth to so much discontent, bitter resentment, violence, abuse and petty grievance? There's so much space for everyone.

Colin Farrell was my personal choice on Oscar night - his was the performance of the year. He conveys sadness like no other actor I know, and his hurt shoots from the screen right into my mind. So good at doing that - I've seen him do it plenty of times, but in The Banshees of Inisherin he perfects it in the form of Pádraic. I was also very keen on Barry Keoghan, who had combined so well with Farrell before in Yorgos Lanthimos film The Killing of a Sacred Deer - Keoghan imbues his Dominic with a comic sensibility which makes all of the ugliness so very much easier to accept and process. The two have an easy chemistry, as does Farrell with Gleeson in a more edgy, spark-infused way. Their double-act was unmissable in another film by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, and it's just as good here. Of course, Kerry Condon forms an integral part of the picture here - and is our own common-sense character in the film. Her expressions are what ours would be if we lived amongst this madness. All four were nominated for Oscars - but it just wasn't this film's year Oscar-wise.

So, to Martin McDonagh - thank you. Banshees wrestles with In Bruges as to which movie is my favourite of yours. I don't know how, but you make sadness, regret, depression and angst really fun and exciting to watch, especially when you add mental illness, stupidity and anger. Like I say, when you give us a broader view than your characters have, we can see the whole equation, where in a fundamental sense it proves to be more of a sense of how we can behave to be happy. When watching Banshees, I keep thinking, "Why don't these guys just set aside 15 minutes a day for idle banter, and compromise?" But when you're inside of that emotional kind of situation, the bigger picture remains clouded by intense feelings, and intrusive thoughts. Just like war, which could easily be solved by some fundamentally sensible compromise between nations, it's a matter of perspective. These characters are trapped by their very own lack of momentum, and end up losing that which they held dear. When concocted in such a fabulous film, which is such a pleasure to watch, I don't mind it at all - that's why fiction is so powerful. McDonagh has matured into a kind of master (he looks like Sting, doesn't he?) and this, another fine work of art on a canvas darkened by clouds, war, regret, sadness and loss.