Charlie Murphy and Pat Shortt star in new Irish film 'Dark lies the Island'

Sexual politics, snideput-downs and family rivalries are fuelling the trouble brewing in a small Midlands town.

Charlie Murphy and Pat Shortt star in new Irish film 'Dark lies the Island'

Sexual politics, snideput-downs and family rivalries are fuelling the trouble brewing in a small Midlands town. At the heart of all the chaos are the Mannions, a clan of three men all harbouring desires for the same woman.

Written by author Kevin Barry and based around characters he created for his short story collection, Dark Lies the Island is a pitch-black comedy which has drawn a top-rate cast.

Among them are Charlie Murphy and Pat Shortt, who play the warring couple at the centre of all the trouble that unfolds. Murphy is Sarah,the second wife of a powerful and dangerous businessman, Daddy Mannion (Shortt). But she was the first love of his son, Doggy (Peter Coonan) — and when she also becomes involved with Doggy’s brother(Moe Dunford), the stage is set for a showdown.

For Murphy, who’s been notching up prominent roles in quality projects like Happy Valley and Peaky Blinders in recent years, it was all about Barry’s script. She says:

We had to trust in letting the words just speak for themselves really and not add any colour because it doesn’t need anything — that’s where the comedy is. And there’s a real cruelty in that as well

“That is the through line with brilliant Irish writers, it seems that they always rub against the dark.”

The characters are edgy and the language feisty in Barry’s first feature-length screenplay, directed by Ian Fitzgibbon (Death of a Superhero). The Mannions are a colourful bunch, said Murphy, but dangerous too. “It feels like there have been generations before them and they’re distilled right down from something, from tradition, in this fishbowl, and everyone has their plan.”

BIG DADDY

For Pat Shortt, who has become Irish cinema’s go-to star for playing amiable men in recent years, having the opportunity to play such a nasty piece of work as Daddy Mannion was a big draw.

“He was so horrible and evil, I mean look at the face of him on the poster. Look at the state of him. This guy runs the family, he dominates them all. He has a strong sense of power over them all, individually.”

Dressed in gold lamé dresses and with heavily styled hair and make up, Murphy’s Sarah is quite the glamourpuss.

“They take pride in their appearance and their lavish surroundings. They have all the mod cons. But she is a woman who has been around the block when it comes to the Mannions. And she looks after them all in her own way and navigates through tricky terrain in a small town.”

While Murphy and Shortt have had long and varied careers, both of them know what it’s like to have starred in a project that has become iconic. Shortt finds he’s still associated with a starring role in Father Ted, particularly when he’s in the UK and Australia, and jokes that he once came home with 10 ‘I Shot JR’ T-shirts following a stand-up comedy tour Down Under.

Murphy, who found fame as the double-crossing Siobhan in Love/Hate, laughs that she still gets called “a rat” when she’s back in Dublin (she is based in London).

Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry

Recently, she’s had another experience of starring in such a high-profile show, appearing opposite Cillian Murphy in the last two series of Peaky Blinders. She’s been playing a real historical character, Jessie Eden, a union figure who spearheaded a campaign for equal pay for women, leading 10,000 women out on strike for their rights.

“They danced that line beautifully I think by paying homage to her and weaving her into something dramatic,” says Murphy. “It was a real joy to play and there was a poetic licence as well for dramatic reasons, even though she herself has a very dramatic past.”

She admits to having felt apprehensive as she arrived on the period recreated streets of Birmingham for the first day of filming.“I was a bit nervous going into it, not for the content at all, but just as something that was so well oiled and such a beast of a show.

“I really felt like I was about to start school again, the first day of school. But it was great, those brilliant sets and brilliant worlds they have created. I did my first series, their fourth series, with David Caffrey, who did Love/Hate and (Irish cinematographer)Cathal Watters. It was great to be in a different world, in a different era and in a completely different context.”

PEER GROUP

From Enniscorthy in Co Wexford, Murphy moved to London shortly after graduating from acting school in 2008 after feeling that she was constantly travelling back and forth to the UK capital for meetings and auditions.

For a period until recently, she shared a flat in north London with Cork actress Sarah Greene and another Love/Hate star, Ruth Bradley. The three remain close friends.

“There’s a real dynamic to it but then there’s a closeness where we can go: ‘Can you help me with these lines’, or with a scene or whatever and that’s so handy to have. In this job you don’t have the watercooler moments, you don’t have this continuity all the time,” she says, adding that she values having such close friends in the industry.

Last year, she took to the West End stage to star alongside Aidan Turner and rising Cork star Chris Walley in a major adaptation of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The Young Offenders star ended up winning an Olivier award for his performance, much to his co-star’s delight.

“He played my brother. It was his first job out of college. He was still graduating when we were in rehearsals and myself and Dennis Conway went to his graduation. It was such a fun and exciting time for him. He’s an incredible actor. I’m excited for him and his career and what he’s going to do next.”

While London has been her base for the past decade, and she says she benefits from a supportive Irish community in the city, Murphy regularly comes back to Ireland for work, and feels it helps keep her connected to home.

“ It’s the logistics of being around your family and getting to touch base with everyone because you’re around the corner,” she says.

Dark Lies the Island opens in cinemas on October 18.

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