There are people, currently walking among us, who do not care so much for traditional St. Patrick’s Day festivities such as wearing green, attending raucous parades, barhopping, and singing Pogues songs in various alleyways. I feel pity for these people, but respect their hesitation for staying in, it is really easy to understand when you are not able to hear your friends at crowded bars, or have to deal with the drunk and unruly strangers, and always live under the threat of being pinched because someone didn’t happen to notice your green striped socks. Luckily for these people, there is Netflix, even on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and although there is not a whole lot of selection of Irish films with their streaming service, the few that are available are pretty great.
Let me preface this selection by saying I was looking for films that dealt with Irish culture, made in Ireland, by Irish filmmakers or with predominantly Irish actors. While I love many of the films that explore the Irish-American experience, I often feel those films focus too heavily on criminality and do not represent enough of a full picture of Irish-American life, for every “In America,” the beautiful family portrait by Jim Sheridan, there are “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Boondock Saints,” and “State of Grace.” Also, these films are usually on heavily rotation on television in mid-March, anyway, and I hope your filmic voyage to the Emerald Isle will be full of more interesting experiences than something you can randomly tune into on TBS.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for his role as Irish writer Christy Brown in this Jim Sheridan film. Born with cerebral palsy, Brown’s left foot was the only part of his body where he was able to exert any control, and by using his foot, he was able to write some of the most interesting modern Irish literature, including his autobiography that this film was based on. This film could very well only have worked with Day-Lewis in the lead, who was so committed to his role, he would not feed himself while on the set. Besides Day-Lewis, the film is elevated by the fact it does not hide Brown was at times a cruel person, who was not humble about his talents at all, and lived a good part of his life as a selfish alcoholic. Like the film’s subject, the film is a complex work, and does not hide all the many ways genius explodes onto the world.
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
This sweet, small village set comedy, is about loyalty and friendship, just as much as it is about a conspiracy to fool a lottery official into believing the winner of a £6.8m prize did not die of shock when he realized he won, but is actually one of his still-living friends. The two masterminds of the plan are Jackie and Michael, two senior citizens who see a way for the whole town to benefit from their deception. One of the true highlights of this film is how it is able to show different members of the village grapple with the morality of the situation, and if taking their cut of the winnings is worth the risk of their neighbors going to jail. If I had to pick another great point of the film, it is the version of “The Parting Glass,” that plays at the end of the film.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
For a couple of years, I’ve been watching this film on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, both of which took place in the early 1920s, it stars Cillian Murphy as Damien, a man who gives up an education studying medicine to take up arms in the IRA against the British. This film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival, forgoes many war (and at times, gangster) film clichés and staples, in order to show events in a realistic, and historically accurate manner. Many of the scenes, especially those that depict torture, are hard to watch, and Damien does horrendous things in the name of the cause, but this film informs the audience through its ability to make events that happened 90+ years ago visceral and real. This is definitely not a pick-me-up kind of film, but that does not mean there isn’t something uplifting in Ken Loach’s filmmaking, and the courage it took for the actors to portray such conflicted characters.
Some other great films to watch around St. Patrick’s Day are:
The Crying Game (1992)
Intermission (2004) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Hunger (2008) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Shane MacGowan: If I Should Fall From Grace (2003) – Not available on Netflix streaming
Also, if you want to go out, but don’t want to deal with the bars or crowds, Cinema Center will be open on March 17th, and would be excited if you chose to spend the holiday with us.
Jonah Crismore is the Executive Director at Cinema Center and thinks “Down All the Days,” inspired by the work by Christy Brown, is an underrated Pogues song.