Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When a film is made with this much love, its goodness shines. Brian Friel's award-winning play about a man remembering the summer of '36, when he was a boy, living with his mother and four aunts in a whitewashed cottage in Donegal, has been adapted by Frank McGuinness with sensitivity and imagination.

So little happens - Uncle Jack (Michael Gambon) returns from missionary work in Africa with his faith undone and his mind awry, Aunt Rose (Sophie Thompson) goes missing on the night of pagan festivities when fires are lit on the hill, they purchase a radio and call it Marconi, Gerry (Rhys Ifans) returns on his motor bike to spend time with Christine (Catherine McCormack) and their son before going to fight Franco in Spain, Aunt Kate (Meryl Streep) has worries about her future at the school - and yet everything happens.

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Afterwards, you know it won't be the same. Ever again. The Munday sisters have never married. Bringing up young Michael without a husband (Gerry is Welsh and a travelling salesman) has been hard on Christine, although he is loved and cared for by all. Kate is the practical one, who teaches at the church school and is called "Gander" by the children behind her back. She is the family's conscience and authority, which, as with all things, she takes seriously. When Jack whinges:"I think I've come home to die," she snaps back, "Don't! We can't afford to bury you." And that's that. He has to live.

The relationship between the sisters, their response to Jack's return and the appearance of Christine's Gerry, the feeling of living a life of hardship and poverty while the world spins out of sight, is beautifully realised.

The acting matches the writing, with Streep giving another of her supreme performances. Thompson is heartbreaking, as the simple-minded Rose, balancing between lumpen slowness and childish delight. Only she could say: "I love you, Agie. I love you more than chocolate biscuits," and not sound embarrassing. Pat O'Connor recreates a moment in the life of this rural Irish family, before everything falls apart, as if he belonged there. It is so unexpected for a film to carry integrity with honour. Dancing At Lughnasa never exaggerates, never simplifies, always remaining faithful to Friel and the spirit of childhood.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Faithful adaptation of Brian Friel's childhood memories of Ireland.
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Director: Pat O'Connor

Writer: Frank McGuinness, Brian Friel stage play

Starring: Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Catherine McCormack

Year: 1998

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Ireland

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