Writers and Directors: Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy
Screened at the closing gala of the Irish Film Festival London, Irish-language Róise & Frank, written and directed by Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy, is a delightful family comedy. Róise is struggling to get over the death of her husband, Frank, after a 40-year marriage. When she’s not plodding through essential domestic routines, she spends most of her time curled up in bed with the curtains closed.
Róise is played with enormous sympathy by Brid Ní Neachtain and we delight in her transformation when an attractive stray dog appears. At first Róise tries to send it packing, but the dog seems instinctively attached to her. He nips inside her house, seating himself confidently on her husband’s armchair. He seems to want her to follow him on a walk. Curious, she finds he’s led her through fields to the couple’s secret picnic spot. Another day she finds him at Frank’s grave. Frank’s final words, she remembers, were “Our story isn’t over yet”: she becomes convinced that Frank has returned in the form of the dog. And Frank he becomes.
Part of the joy of the film is that we too believe Frank the dog is somehow Frank the husband. The dog is certainly an uncannily good actor, responding with nuance to Róise’s every mood. Soon she is bounding through the fields with him, a changed woman. She starts buying steak and sharing it with the canine Frank, who now has a place at the table. Neighbour Donncha (creepily played by Loran Cranitch) tries to ingratiate himself with Alan, Róise’s GP son, hoping he can pay court to her. Alan is discouraging, but in the end it is Frank’s fierce reaction to this slightly sinister suitor that convinces Róise to steer clear of him. Alan, meanwhile, fears his mother has become delusional.
Frank the man was something of a hurling legend. There is a mural of him on Róise’s backwall. Small, bespectacled Mikey treats this as a shrine, practising his hurling strokes against it every day before school. Canine Frank’s appearance changes everything. He helps Mikey’s practice to the extent that Mikey, from being a bit of an outcast, is welcomed by his class and accepted into the school’s hurling team. They too become convinced that Frank is in effect coaching them.
Much of the comedy lies in people’s gradual acceptance of dog Frank as human Frank and there’s a particularly nice scene when stodgy Alan finds himself bashfully addressing the dog as his former father. The local traffic cop officiously pulls Róise over to tell her Frank must travel in the back of the car. But by the grand finale, he too has been won over, escorting the dog to the big match which, without their canine coach, Mikey’s team are in danger of losing.
There are great supporting performances by Cillian O’ Gairbhi as Alan (the scenes with his baby daughter, Emer, are particularly funny). Young Ruadhán de Faoite is tremendous as Mikey, the unexpected hurling star.
Róise & Frank screened at the Irish Film Festival 2022.