From The Quiet Man to Darby O’Gill to Far and Away, Chris Wasser lists the worst representations of Ireland on the big screen
BEGORRAH and bejaysus, we’ve had a rough auld time of it in Hollywood over the years. The folks in Tinseltown have, on more than one occasion, made a right holy show of us, to be sure, to be sure (we’ll stop that now).
Indeed, we’ve heard all the worst accents, and witnessed all the worst stereotypes. We’ve had our fill of plastic shamrocks, green fields, thatched cottages, hideous paddy caps, and cinematic leprechauns. But which Hollywood depiction of the ‘Oirish’ can truly be deemed ranks among the worst?
And as today is St Patrick’s Day, what better time to cast an eye over the long and troublesome history of paddywhackery on the big screen …
This is the root of the problem. Indeed, director John Ford’s diabolical display, about an Irish-born American named Sean Thornton (John Wayne), who returns to the old country to reclaim his father’s land, is where Hollywood’s problematic love affair with the, um, emerald isle, began.
Listen, ‘Inisfree’ looks lovely and all, and Ford’s picture — which won two Oscars — paved the way for a tourism t goldmine (we’ve all been to the Quiet Man Bridge in Connemara, at this stage).
But The Quiet Man is a bit of a sham — a crude, cartoonish, picture-postcard of a film about a man who touches down in a village full of backward eejits, bullies his way into Maureen O’Hara’s heart, and settles a dispute with his brother-in-law over a scrap and a pint. We’re still paying for this one.
Francis Ford Coppola’s trippy adaptation of the popular Broadway musical concerns a cunning Irish fella named Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire), who escapes to America with his daughter, Sharon (Petula Clark), after they steal a pot of gold from a leprechaun.
A few years back, the Coen brothers declared Finian’s Rainbow to be one of their favourite films. The rest of us are still trying to figure out where Glocca Morra is. Abysmal stuff.
It’s the mid-90s in ‘Tullymore’, and an elderly chap by the name of Ned Devine (Jimmy Keogh) has literally died of shock, after winning the National Lottery.
It falls, then, to a couple of his mates, Jackie (Ian Bannen) and Michael (David Kelly), to convince a fancy Lotto man from the big shmoke that Ned is alive and well, so that as they and their fellow villagers can divide his millions amongst themselves.
It sounds fun, but Kirk Jones’ broad and bewildering comedy (shot on the Isle of Man) makes a mockery of us, doubling down on every stereotype in the book, and depicting the Irish as a backward nation of chancers, imbeciles, and twinkle-eyed beggars. Naturally, it made millions at the box office.
An unstable American real estate stager, named Anna (Amy Adams), follows her clueless cardiologist boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott), to Ireland so that she can propose to him onFebruary 29. Alas, the weather gods intervene, and poor Anna somehow ends up stranded in Dingle, where she convinces a local B&B owner Declan (Matthew Goode), to drive her to Dublin.
Hilarity ensues in the form of stubborn cows, boozy locals, and pesky smartphones that trip an entire village’s electricity. Shocking stuff altogether. Goode would later admit that the only reason he took the gig was so he could be close to his family in the UK.
A beguiling and, indeed, baffling oddity, Akiva Goldsman’s A New York Winter’s Tale stars Colin Farrell as an immortal thief, who seems to have forgotten all about the time a demonic Irish gangster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe)poisoned his girlfriend, and threw him off the Brooklyn Bridge (as you do).
There’s a flying horse in there too. It sounds amazing and, in its own special way, A New York Winter’s Tale is exactly that. It was also a box-office disaster, and Russell Crowe’s musical, supernatural, all-Ireland brogue is unintentionally hilarious.
Whoever it was that decided Kevin Spacey should play a fictionalised version of Irish crime boss Martin Cahill should take a long, hard look in the mirror, and ask themselves why it is they thought the world needed an obnoxious, cack-handed, diddley-eye, pound-shop version of John Boorman’s The General.
Because Ordinary Decent Criminal was a mess, and Spacey’s performance is the stuff of nightmares.
It seems like only yesterday that Tom Cruise brought the country to a standstill, during his 2013 whistle-stop tour of Ireland.
If you’ll recall, during an appearance on The Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy asked Cruise how his Irish accent was holding up.
Why? Well, probably because he’d already made a mess of it on screen, portraying a 19th century Irish immigrant in Ron Howard’s questionable, 1992 romantic epic, Far and Away (co-starring his then-wife Nicole Kidman). File under forgettable.
Remember when Neil Jordan and his team thought it would be a good idea for Julia Roberts to portray Kitty Kiernan, opposite Liam Neeson, in 1996’sMichael Collins?
Hey, if casting Roberts helped put bums on seats, then so be it. But Roberts’ accent — all stretched vowels and consonants tougher than steel — was brutal, so it was.
Based on Cecelia Ahern’s best-selling novel, Richard LaGravenese’s soapy romcom mantic comedy, about a heartbrokenAmerican widow whose late Irish husband showers her with love letters from beyond the grave made a fortune at the box office.
Hilary Swank may have been the star, but it was her on-screen lover boy, Gerard Butler, who stole the show, with a ham-fisted, tongue-twisted Irish accent, straight out of BallyGodKnowsWhere. Butler later apologised for his sins.
Mark Jones’ gruesome shlockfest, Leprechaun(tagline: ‘Your Luck Just Ran Out’) is, perhaps, to blame for an entire generation’s obsession with a mythical Irish fairy who’ll stop at nothing to protect his lucky charms.
Warwick Davis led the way. Jennifer Aniston (in her first major film role) provided support. A plethora of sequels followed, including 1997’s Leprechaun 4: In Space (yes, it’s exactly as it sounds). A reboot is in the works — you have been warned.
We wouldn’t dare skip over this golden oldie. The story of how Walt Disney ended up producing the definitive leprechaun feature, began with a trip to Ireland, to meet with the Irish Folklore Commission, in 1947.
Our boy Walt (whose great-grandfather was from Kilkenny), dreamed of making a film about a man who catches a leprechaun, and though it would take 10 years for he and his collaborators to get their act together, they eventually found what they werelooking for, in the work of British writer Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, whose Darby O’Gill tales were first published in 1901.
You know the score.Robert Stevenson directs an Irish, British, and Scottish cast, including a pre-Bond Sean Connery (who looks genuinely mortified throughout), a Golden Globe-winning Janet Munro, Belfast thespianAlbert Sharpe, and Dublin comic Jimmy O’Dea, whom Disney discovered in apantomime. Curiously, the film was shot on a studio backlot in Los Angeles.
Premiering in Dublin, with Walt and his cast in attendance, in the summer of 1959, Darby O’Gill and the Little People opened to critical acclaim, and though it must surely be one of the cringiest cases of cinematic paddywhackery that’s ever been committed to celluloid, it’s really more of a colourful fantasy, and is only as offensive as we allow it to be.