Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The relationship between Cian and Grace, whose patience he slowly begins to recognise and appreciate, is beautifully drawn."

A small story about a big event in one man’s life, Lakelands is a carefully tuned, low key piece of cinema with fine work from all involved. It’s the story of a Gaelic football player who sustains a life-changing injury, but it’s also a commentary on what it means to be a man in a society where masculinity is understood almost exclusively in terms of the physical, and on the new direction which Ireland is finding for itself as the world changes.

Éanna Hardwicke plays Cian, the best player in his team and constantly under pressure because of it. Gaelic football is more than just a game to him, and more than just a chance to make something if his talent – it’s the only real opportunity available at all in his remote rural location. The alternative is labouring all day just to scratch a living on the family dairy farm, whose struggles have his father (Lorcan Cranitch) constantly on edge. He has to ride for an hour on the bus to reach anywhere where there’s more going on, and it’s on one such adventure, in search of a few drinks and some dancing, that he’s beaten up in an alley, changing everything.

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At first it seems like the kind of thing which a strong willed young man might take in his stride. Bumps are bruises mostly – medical attention needed and a couple of days’ rest, and then he’s back on his feet and back on the pitch. But something is wrong. He gets headaches, dizzy spells, nausea. Grace (Danielle Galligan), a former schoolfriend who is back in the area for a lengthy visit, suggests that he might have a concussion. The doctors confirm it and say he’ll probably feel fine in a few days. He doesn’t. Gradually it becomes apparent that the extent of his injury is more serious.

Having a strong will and a healthy physicality can work against a person in a situation like this. Cian is overwhelmed by rage at what he sees as his own failing – an attitude not helped by locals who feel that their star is letting them down. Desperate, he tries to hide it from his coach, but he’s putting himself at serious risk, and his inconsistency is bad for the team. Grace’s efforts to get him to talk about his feelings and process the incident in a healthy way even aggravate him. He’s even struggling with the farm work, and can’t see a future for himself. Help ultimately comes from the two men he least expected to empathise with his predicament, and he gradually realises that there are other ways to contribute to the world around him, and other ways to be a man.

The relationship between Cian and Grace, whose patience he slowly begins to recognise and appreciate, is beautifully drawn. She’s going through troubles of her own and needs a friend. There’s a suggestion that each has romantic feelings for the other, but she’s in a relationship and fully intends to return to England, where she works. Here, as in Ciaran’s working life, there’s a recognition that not being able to have everything doesn’t make having part of something special less valuable. Simon Crowe’s cinematography gradually warms the landscape as Cian begins to see the value in everything around him.

Irish cinema has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years, and this film, which screened at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festiival, is further proof of its potential. The direction is assured, the performances spot on. It’s a quiet little film which won’t blow holes in the box office, but it’s a film which all involved can be proud of.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2023
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The story of Cian, a footballer who gets attacked on a night out. He will struggle to come to terms with his career-ending injury.
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Director: Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney

Writer: Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney

Starring: Éanna Hardwicke, Danielle Galligan, Lorcan Cranitch, Gary Lydon, Dafhyd Flynn

Year: 2022

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Ireland


Glasgow 2023

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