The Banshees of Inisherin – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Martin McDonagh

It is the reunion everyone has been waiting for – Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in a new Martin McDonagh film. Add another star turn from Barry Keogh and a miniature donkey, and the result is perfection. The Banshees of Inisherin is a welcome return to form for MacDonagh after the questionable A Very Very Very Dark Matter at the Bridge Theatre, a much of this story, receiving its gala screening at the BFI London Film Festival, feels like it could be easily adapted for the stage.

Without explanation, Colm no longer wants to go to the pub with Padraic and after some pressures admits he doesn’t like his best friend anymore, admitting he is worried about his legacy and wants to spend his free time writing a song that people will remember. But Padraic is unwilling to give up on the friendship without good reason and despite Colm’s threat to do something drastic, continues to try. Soon it is all the island is talking about.

McDonagh’s film does what the writer has always done best, finding bleak humour in the loneliness and isolation of rural Irish life and The Banshees of Inisherin is a film that will delight long-term fans with its closely observed character humour, its often-moving observations of island living and the distance between people, as well as its very silly, sometime graphic, style. Like In Bruges, this centres around an odd couple in which friendship, legacy and community come under fire where an innate violence, particularly directed against the innocent who are caught in the crossfire, is far closer to the surface than we might like to believe.

And McDonagh’s film is beautifully crafted, never a dull moment across its 1 hour and 50-minute running time, every scene designed to create character insight, empathy or a rolling belly laugh that makes the semi-ridiculous decline of a friendship such a joy to experience. Beneath the surface, of course, McDonagh is making important points about the ridiculousness of men, how small grudges and mindsets like that depicted between Colm and Padraic can so easily escalate to the violent Civil War that the inhabitants of Inisherin hear in the background, all because of male pride and poor communication; serious themes wrapped in a riotous and wonderfully observed context.

Like McDonagh’s very best plays, this takes place in a limited set of locations – the home of the Padraic and his sister Siobhan, the single island pub and occasionally the local shop which make it perfectly suited for a stage transfer. The rest of the film is given over to the extraordinary scenery of fields, a port and stone walls that create so much context, showing the isolation of individuals in homes seemingly miles from anyone else and the determination to come together in places of congregation, overcoming the bleakness with community spirit.

Farrell’s Padraic is a joy, a nice man bewildered by his friend’s unjustifiable change of heart and wanting to be loved. Farrell’s comic timing is superb and there is such hurt and humanity in his performance that watching Padraic reach the point of no return is particularly entertaining. The chemistry with Gleeson is excellent, playing the morose and withdrawn Colm who just wants to be alone at any cost. Keogh has rather specialised in psychopathic or unhinged characters but there is such sweetness in his Dominic, a rare chance to flex his own comic muscles which the actor excels at, while Kerry Condon constantly overshadows the men as Siobhan, the only practical voice of reason.

The very best comedy puts humour and tragedy on a knife edge and The Banshees of Inisherin is hilarious and deeply moving in turn. It creates deep character investment and Farrell’s wardrobe alone will be your autumn knitwear crush. A fabulous reunion for cast and audience, a faultless return for McDonagh and there’s an adorable miniature donkey to boot.

The Banshees of Inisherin is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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