The Guest – ★★½
Irish co-directors Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn’s first feature is a small independent film set during Ireland’s War of Independence. It tells the story of a black and tan soldier who is wounded in an ambush and ends up being taken in for recuperation in a country home run by two Protestant sisters. No one else knows of his whereabouts but his presence there sets in motion a series of dramatic twists.
Tara Breatnach plays May, the older sister who is in charge of Glebe House and is brilliant as a tough and damaged woman forced to run the country farm after the premature death of her parents. She manages to maintain a world of emotion and sadness in her face as her world slowly collapses. The wounded soldier (Gerard McCarthy) does well with a fairly limiting role and his English brogue lends a Downton-esque quality to many scenes. The same can’t be said for Muireann Bird (Tilly) who seems a little out of her depth in a big screen period drama. The use of untrained actors in bit parts is a tough thing to pull off and doesn’t really work here.
Production-wise the film is very solid for such a low-budget endeavour. Kudos to Garret Daly who takes the cinematography credit with some gorgeous scene-setting shots in place. The sense of time and place really is beautifully rendered and within moments of the film’s opening you do feel like you’ve been transported back ninety years to rural Ireland. The loser/pedant in me did spot the wrong hymn book in a church scene but this certainly won’t ruin your enjoyment of the story (plus there’s unlikely to be many in Ireland who’d spot the placement of Church Hymnal Fifth Edition from 2000).
Ultimately the film falls down because of its penchant for melodrama, with the big sweeping score hardly helping the matter. Clare author PJ Curtis wrote the book on which its based so certain twists and turns had to be followed but the final plot still lacked much credulity. One of the reasons that The Wind That Shakes The Barley was so effective was that Loach managed to make it feel like the horribly raw and visceral time that it was. There’s more of a distance in play here and, like so many period productions, the scenes in the country home Glebe House sometimes just feel like actors in dress-up visiting an old house, rather than a truly lived-in place. Families and communities were absolutely ripped apart during this period and there just isn’t enough of that shown on screen.
But putting all this aside, this a story made for very little money in the middle of Offaly which is likely to play well with the audience for whom it’s intended, those folks all around the country who crave for “great wee stories” about the Ireland of old. And with all that in mind, it’s perfectly fine.
A Nightingale Falling is released in IMC cinemas across Ireland on September 12th 2014