That They May Face The Rising Sun


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

That They May Face The Rising Sun
"A film built on the repeated turn of the seasons and the idea of leaving and returning." | Photo: Conic

The Emerald Isle has rarely looked greener than it does in That They May Face The Rising Sun. A film built on the repeated turn of the seasons and the idea of leaving and returning, in its rural setting the hillsides glow with the verdancy of high rainfall even in summer, while the colour also provides an accent for everything from woodstain to the ribbon on a wedding cake.

Time moves slower in this late-Seventies world recalled by John McGahern - and adapted for the screen by writer/director Pat Collins and his co-writer Eamon Little - but it passes all the same. “You really are in no hurry,” someone tells Joe Ruttledge (Bary Ward). It’s true, writer Joe has, presumably, returned to Ireland from London some years before precisely because he and his artist wife Kate (Anna Bederke) have had their fill of the rat race. Collins, too, takes his time to build the mood in leisurely fashion - this is a film to sink into like a pair of familiar slippers, so those who like movies packed with pace would be as well to sprint on.

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Life is marked out by the coming and going of the seasons and the various elderly denizens of the locale, who never seem to be far from Joe and Kate’s threshold. Among them is the cantankerous Patrick (Lalor Roddy, never better), long-married couple Jamesie (Phillip Dolan) and Mary (Ruth McCabe) and, periodically on his visits from England, Jamesie’s brother Johnny (Sean McGinley). There is an air of theatricality, especially at first, as it seems that each individual might well be waiting in the wings for another to come and go so they can say their piece.

Collins, however, sticks with the idea of enjoying the moment while still striking a melancholy note about the fact that all things must pass to an impressive degree until his gentle rhythms begin to work their magic. This is in no small part due to the excellent cast. While Roddy has the flashier role as the irascible Patrick - a man who periodically lashes out at loss - Ward finds ways to calibrate and convey all the levels of Joe’s understanding. We learn Joe once trained for the priesthood and he acts as a sort of secular equivalent, offering a sympathetic ear to those around him. In the feistier back and forths between Patrick and Johnny there’s a waft of the spirit of Samuel Beckett or James Joyce. Naturalism is to the fore, however, and if Collins is economical in terms of the interactions between Kate and Joe they nonetheless feel significant and based on physical closeness and mutual understanding rather than dialogue. Would watching grass grow be more exciting? Perhaps, but taking a moment to calmly and quietly reflect on that sort of thing has its pleasures.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2024
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Drama about a couple who return to the small rural lakeside hamlet where one of them grew up.
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Director: Pat Collins

Writer: Eamon Little, Pat Collins, based on the novel by John McGahern

Starring: Barry Ward, Anna Bederke, Ruth McCabe, Laylor Roddy, Sean McGinley, Phillip Dolan

Year: 2023

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland, UK


London 2023

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