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An Irish Goodbye

March 8, 2023

    It’s safe to say that actor James Martin is looking forward to his upcoming trip to Hollywood.

    The star of An Irish Goodbye, the short film that has already won a Bafta and is now gunning for an Oscar, has an extra reason to celebrate. Sunday’s ceremony falls on his birthday.

    “The leopard-skin jacket is coming out!” he says.

    “I would love to meet Tom Cruise. His movie Top Gun was fantastic. I would love to meet Robert De Niro as we have something in common. My name is actually Robert James so it would be nice to meet someone who has the same name. We’re both actors and we can both be grumpy on set, so maybe it’s a family thing!”

    Martin, who has also starred in BBC One film Ups and Downs and ITV’s Marcella, plays Lorcan in Ross White and Tom Berkeley’s film about two estranged brothers thrown together again after their mother’s untimely death.

    Younger brother Lorcan lives and works on the family farm in Northern Ireland but with their mother (Michelle Fairley) gone, older brother Turlough (Seamus O’Hara) returns from London to announce that Lorcan – who has Down’s syndrome – will have to move in with their aunt. Lorcan is distinctly unimpressed with the idea.

    “Everyone wants to be independent, I’m very independent of my folks,” Martin says.

    “It’s very important [to show what people with learning disabilities can do]. It’s not often you get your own part on a show if you have Down’s syndrome. But never judge a book by its cover.

    “Lorcan’s very independent but the love and the hate and the emotion towards his brother is fantastic. It’s good to have that special bond. If it wasn’t for that special bond… he’d just look at him (Turlough) as a carer.”

    White says the idea about a homecoming first began to germinate after he and Berkeley made a big life decision a few years ago.

    “Tom and I met about 10 years ago when we trained as actors, we were living in London and writing plays as well acting.

    “As our careers went on, we were writing more and more and acting less. In 2019, we made this big decision to leave London, to go back to our respective home towns, Belfast for myself and Gloucester for Tom, and just write full-time and move from writing for theatre into writing for screen.

    “At that time we were thinking a lot about the idea of having left home, and then returning back home and it feeling a little bit like, ‘Are you from that place again?'”

    But they needed a narrative, which came by chance when Berkeley attended a football match.

    “I just happened to see a couple of brothers who were sat a few rows ahead of me watching the game, and the younger brother, much like in our story, had Down’s syndrome,” he tells me.

    “There was an interesting juxtaposition between what was a very typically ferocious, brotherly kind of relationship, quite combative, as they were watching the game. They were hurling abuse at each other! And then… there was this other added layer of responsibility that was there between them as well, which I found quite compelling. There was just something really poignant about the relationship.”

    Berkeley explains that it got them thinking about how people deal with grief in different ways.

    “It was the idea of two people who see the world very differently and processed emotions very differently. The older brother – stoic, a bit repressed, slightly cynical. And then the younger brother, who wears his heart on his sleeve and has this superhuman capacity for empathy.

    “We thought it would be really interesting to see those two opposites go through the process of grief together.”

    While part of the storyline is linked to Lorcan having a learning disability and needing support after the death of his mum, White and Berkeley were keen not to make that the sole focus.

    “We spoke about the idea of the character having Down’s syndrome… once, and then we just didn’t really speak about it that much, because there were so many other factors of that character that were more interesting,” says White.

    “It wasn’t at the forefront for us… and meeting James as an actor, you see the the multi-faceted sides of his personality, and actually the Down’s syndrome is way down the list of interesting things about James. He’s a natural comedian. He’s charismatic.

    “With representation, it’s not enough just to slap somebody in the thing and say we’ve done our job. The role has to be meaningful.”

    Berkeley adds: “Lorcan has the agency of his own story, he’s not orbiting around the other characters. He drives the plot.”

    The black comedy has generally been given a warm reception, with Amano Miura from Dublin’s EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum, writing: “The dynamic, hilarious, and heart-warming relationship between brothers confronts the audience with existential questions about what really matters to us and where we really call home.”

    Rukayat Moibi from MySohoTimes wrote: “An Irish Goodbye is an ambitious picture that, in a satisfying and heart-warming sense, almost feels as if it could be outside of the short film genre.”

    A rollercoaster of emotion, the film sends you lurching from tears of sadness one minute to tears of laughter the next.

    White explains: “There’s the kind of space between the tragedy and the comedy that feels like the truth in the middle.

    “Coming from Belfast obviously there’s this kind of gallows humour we’ve got with coping with adversity, and that felt like a very specifically Northern Irish thing in that way.

    “It’s also quite a male thing as well,” adds Berkeley.

    Their previous short film Roy starred David Bradley as an elderly widower suffering from loneliness.

    “Both films are about men struggling or badly coping with with grief. And I suppose that’s something maybe we recognise in our own experience and from the chaps in our lives as well.”

    An Irish Goodbye is available on Mubi.

    2 Comments leave one →
    1. March 8, 2023 12:23 am

      Quick question: Has this blog been hacked? In recent weeks it seems that user “findtheability23” has started posting here and the posts seem to be random collections of words with no meaning, and appear to be from somewhere in the US as well. Just wondered if you were aware of this?

      • March 8, 2023 12:43 am

        Findtheability23 is a friend who is fundraising by posting here. She has CP and uses speech recognition to type so she makes unintentional typos often. I try to correct the obvious ones. She is from the UK. No hacking in sight! Besf wishes.

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