The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

A bizzare tale of two best friends battling acceptance and rejection with generous sprinking of gore and extremism

8/1/20235 min read

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'
Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'

English, 114 minutes, 2022

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Awards: Nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay; Won 5 (Outstanding British Film, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best original Screenplay) and nominated for 4 more BAFTA Awards; Won 3 (Best Motion Picture, Best Actor & Best Screenplay) and nominated for 5 more Golden Globe Awards; Nominated for Golden Lion, Won Golden Osella for Best Screenplay and Volpi Cup for Best Actor at Venice International Film Festival, 2022

Set during last few years of Irish civil war close to 1923, in the picturesque, imaginary village island of Inisherin, Northern Ireland, this tale of two friends is bizarre yet heartwarming. Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), a fiddler, one fine day stops talking to his best friend Padraic. Padraic is perplexed and is annoyed at his friend’s sudden reticence only towards him. He asks him point blank confronting at the local village pub whether he has said something wrong or hurtful to Colm. Colm calmly says no and equally calmly explains that he has not said anything wrong or hurtful to him. It is just that Padraic bores him now and hence he is disinterested in his friendship. Instead he would want to use his time more fruitfully composing music. As evidence he cites their conversation a day ago when, Colm says, Padraic talked about his Pony’s shit for two hours. Padraic can’t understand what is wrong in mundane chatting about anything. He is hurt and can’t take this rejection.

Padraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), who lives with him, too is perturbed and goes to talk to Colm. Colm explains his stand to which Siobhan counters that he was like this always and why Colm finds him dull now, after so many years of friendship! Colm agrees but expresses his helplessness. Siobhan goes back and tells Padraic to leave Colm alone as he is determined. Padraic just can’t do that. He approaches Colm once again. Colm ultimately, at their village pub, publicly, tells him to stop talking to him otherwise he will chop off his own left hand’s finger everytime he talks to him. Padraic and others there are taken aback.

Padraic is devastated and starts talking to Dominic (Barry Keoghan), son of local ‘Garda’ (policeman). Once under drunken state, Padriac confronts Colm in the pub where he is playing fiddle along with other players and accuses him of lacking ‘niceness’. Next morning, though, Padraic goes to apologize to Colm but the conversation ends badly and soon as per his promise, Colm cuts one of his fingers and throws at Padraic’s door. Padriac and Siobahn are shocked. Siobahn visits Colm to put some sense into him but returns unsuccessful. She tells Padriac to stop talking to Colm immediately for good.

Padraic once tricks Colm’s fellow fiddler by telling that his father has met with an accident and he should rush to town. The fiddler scoots and somehow Padraic thinks he is clever enough to make fool of fiddler and is not boring or dull as thought by Colm. Thinking that this would rekindle their friendship he again visits Colm and strikes conversation. Colm obviously is not impressed but reveals that he has completed composing his tune ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’. Padraic, thinking that his friendship is back on track urges him to come to pub. Colm tell him to go ahead and order drinks. As Padraic waits at the pub, Siobhan learns of their meeting and comes rushing to pub. She urges him to let Colm be and takes him with her. On their way to home, they see bleeding Colm with all fingers of left hand chopped off. Shocked duo rushes home. Siobhan has received letter from mainland and she leaves soon. After she leaves, Padraic discovers that his pony has died, choked because of swallowing finger of Colm.

Thoroughly devastated, Padraic goes to pub and tells Colm about his pony’s death. Calmly, simmering with anger and disappointment, next day on Sunday he declares, he will set Colm’s house on fire at 2 pm and hopes he will be inside. Sure enough, Padraic burns Colm’s house with Colm inside. He however, takes his dog along with him. Next day, at beach he sees Colm looking at sea. Colm’s dog runs towards him. Colm says so now they are calling quits to which Padraic replies that it doesn’t matter now.

Martin’s screenplay and direction is taut and borders extremism. The cast is superb and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson perform roles convincingly. Brendan, especially, comes across convincingly as justified about why he is suddenly not talking to Padraic, his best friend over years. ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ skillfully navigates between its folklore-driven elements and the contemporary themes of acceptance and rejection, in the pursuit of one's identity.

About the director, Martin McDonagh

Martin was born in March, 1970 in Camberwell, London to Irish parents who migrated to London from Ireland in search of work. Father worked as a construction worker whereas mother took up jobs to clean offices and houses. He and his elder brother, John, were sent to Roman Catholic schools, but parents took them back to Ireland every summer to visit family. That explains why almost all plays written by Martin are set in Ireland. So Martin essentially is a theatre personality who later also dabbled in films.

Both the brothers left school when turned 16 in different years. Martin, in one of the interviews candidly admitted that he was not clear about what he wanted to do in life except, he “didn’t want to work under any boss”. Elder brother was clearer- he wanted to be a writer. As such Martin did not have any formal training in films or play writing but his reading, watching plays, writing short stories (around 150 of those, we learnt) and watching television crystallized into a bunch of plays, all of which, he wrote in 1994.

The first play, ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ was staged at Druid Theatre in Galway, Ireland in 1996 after rejections by many theatre companies. This play talks about the love-hate relationship of a middle aged unmarried woman and her mother who live together. The play was received well by critics in Ireland. However major boost came after two years when the play was staged on Broadway. The play had a successful run there and was even nominated for a Tony Award. After this, all his plays were staged to critical acclaim in Ireland, England and in USA.

His first foray in films was his short film, ‘Six Shooter’ made in 2004 which he wrote and directed. This film won Academy Award and starred among other actors, Brendan Gleeson who also acted in the present film. His first full length feature ‘In Bruges’ made in 2008, depicts two Irish hitmen who hide in Bruges, the largest city in Flemish region of Belgium. This film too stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. ‘In Bruges’ was the opening film of Sundance Film Festival, 2008. Martin was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ for this film at Academy Awards, 2009.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ is Martin’s fourth film and was announced in 2019 but got delayed due to Covid pandemic. The film was then shot in between August and October, 2021 and premiered in September 2022 at Venice International Film Festival. Martin’s creations either on stage or on screen, smack of dark humour confronting popular and traditional beliefs and perceptions.