Tearaways on timely mission

Will Collins’s script for Irish film My Brothers has three siblings seeking to replace their dying father’s broken watch, writes Pádraic Killeen

IT was like the fulfilment of a childhood dream come true for screenwriter Will Collins, whose debut film My Brothers opens nationwide this weekend

The film’s development has proved quite the romantic journey for the native of Castlemagner in North Cork. It began when Collins’s brief plot-outline won the Pitching Award at the Galway Film Fleadh back in 2007. It continued when the Irish Film Board then decided to help bring the project to fruition, coaxing British filmmaker Paul Fraser (writer of A Room for Romeo Brass, Somers Town) to come on board as director. Since its completion, the film has proven a hit at film festivals worldwide.

Set in the late 1980s, My Brothers tells the story of three young boys on a mission to replace a broken watch for their terminally ill father. The film sketches a minute world, but it fills the frame with it and provides a series of enchanting moments for the viewer as the three lads careen around East Cork in a battered old bread van. It’s a slender but absorbing tale.

“That was our intention,” says Collins, who has a masters in screenwriting from the Huston School of Film in NUI Galway. “Obviously, we’re in the blockbuster season right now, but My Brothers is an attempt to create a small film that has a real emotional punch and some degree of honesty about it. There was an honest core to the script that thankfully Paul Fraser was able to capture on film.”

Fraser is best known as the writing collaborator of English filmmaker Shane Meadows, with whom he has penned wonderful films such as Twenty Four Seven, A Room for Romeo Brass, and Somers Town. My Brothers marks his own directorial debut. Initially, the Englishman had been acting as a script advisor to Collins but found himself becoming more involved. “As that process went on I really started to care,” says Fraser. “The story was something that was very familiar to me and there was something in Will’s writing that was very similar to the way I write.”

Certainly, My Brothers shares much with the world of childhood and adolescence that Fraser and Meadows have so often visited in their films, a world that is often dark but which is also capable of sudden bursts of magic and sentiment.

Collins was thrilled when Fraser came on board. He sees in Fraser’s films with Meadows “the same intensity of emotion” that he aspires to in his own writing. Collins took the inspiration for My Brothers from a poignant experience in his own youth — the long-term illness of his father.

“I wanted to do a portrait of how it felt for us kids at the time,” he says. “The film is very much about emotional repression. When you’re dealing with a parent who has a long-term illness you don’t spend a lot of time moping around the place. You just get on with it. And that’s what these kids are doing. They’re still having the craic, arising around, and whatnot. But you also have this very heavy significant thing that’s happening in their lives and that is bearing down upon them. So that was the whole genesis and drive behind the story.”

Collins — like his protagonists — is one of three brothers.

“None of the events in the film are based on reality but it is very much based on the characters of my brothers and me,” says Collins. “I gave the script to my oldest brother one Christmas and watched nervously while he read it. He laughed, and by the end I think he’d shed a tear. My other brother never read the script but he’s proud as punch of the film because the actor who plays the middle brother — Paul Courtney — is a naturally witty fellow and he brings a huge likeability to the character. So I think my middle brother is particularly chuffed with that.”

When it came to casting the three parts, Fraser ended up turning to untrained actors — a practice he is familiar with from his collaborations with Meadows.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision. We saw professional actors for the parts, also. But I was more than open to working with untrained actors. For some reason it resonates with me and the kind of stories that I tell. What you do get from untrained actors is passion and commitment. They’re not just coming in for six weeks before moving on to the next project.”

The performances of the three young men are striking. Timmy Creed puts in a nuanced turn as the introverted eldest brother; Paul Courtney makes the middle brother an earthy mix of mouthy angst and quiet hurt; while TJ Griffin captures well the eccentricity that so often marks the youngest child in any family. The film’s key charm is the rapport between the three.

Fraser asked experienced Irish thespian Don Wycherley — who plays the boys’ father — to act as their mentor while on set. They also developed their characters through workshops. “I sent them out to do ten-pin bowling together and to go clothes shopping together. I was trying to get them to live and breathe who they were as much as possible. It’s about generating a history. With the three boys in the film you want every single look between them to have a history to it.”

Fraser is now developing work on his second directorial effort. Meanwhile, in his capacity as screenwriter-for-hire, he is also busy adapting Rachel Ward’s popular teen fiction trilogy Numbers. He says that further collaborations with Shane Meadows are also down the line. The two have been busy in recent years with their own projects, with Meadows tied up with his popular Channel 4 TV series This Is England.

“We grew up together, Shane and I, and This Is England is actually all about people I knew and that I grew up with. So it’s fascinating for me, not having written it. What’s nice is that we went through a great number of years where every time we’d go out we would end up talking about the work we were doing together, but this last few years we’ve just been like mates again. But there are a couple of projects that we are working on and we will be doing something together again.”

Meanwhile, Collins, too, is busy with a variety of projects. Most prominent amongst these is Song of the Sea, a feature he has written for Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation company that produced The Secret of Kells. In production for the past four years, the film will no doubt further enhance the young Corkman’s reputation.

* My Brothers is released nationwide Aug 17


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