Film Review: Kings



Kings
(2007)

88 Mins 
Dir. Tom Collins 
I don’t watch a lot of movies. You may have noticed that is the first movie review to appear on these pages. It’s a complex and rich art form and one that I feel I should be more appreciative of, but movies don’t stay with me the way books do. I really don’t know why and I wouldn’t make an argument for the superiority of literature. It’s just what I prefer.
    That said, I must admit that I loved this movie. My friend Leslie Jordan told me about it a few years ago and I finally got around to watching it. It was Ireland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2008 Academy Awards® and a deserving contender. It’s based on the one-act play The Kings of Kilburn High Road and tells the story of a group of young men who left the West of Ireland to go to work in London. One of that group, some thirty years later, has died and all the action takes place on his funeral day. Jackie Flaherty was a champion hooker (Irish: húicéir) racer back in Galway — a hooker is a type of small sailing boat — and on this day his aged father is arriving to take body back home to the West. His five friends, Joe, Shay, Git, Jap and Mairtín gather to wake him and we watch as the backstory unfolds. 

    This is the story of countless Irish people in England — men, in particular — who left Ireland with the notion of working hard and making enough money to return as ‘kings’ and have a good life in Ireland. For most, that day never comes and the irony of Jackie’s death is that, finally, he gets to go back. (A fine book on this subject, by the way, An Unconsidered People: The Irish in London by Catherine Dunne.) I’ve talked about this subject in earlier newsletters/blogs, most recently when discussing I Could Read the Sky and the song It’s a Long Way from Clare to Here and I admit that it’s one that haunts me. I left Ireland in 1969 to go to work in England and there I saw the men in this film — men who years later would be broken down by hard labour and hard drinking. Men who thought some day to go ‘home’ but would find, in the end, that there was no home there. 

    The cast is excellent — Colm Meaney as Joe Mullan and Brendan Conroy as Git Miller are particularly outstanding. The soundtrack has won awards and I was taken particularly by the use of old Irish sean-nós songs. Dónal Óg is sung in Irish over the opening credits — “Dónal Óg, if you cross the ocean, take me with you when you are going”. And there’s a beautiful sung version of the prayer  A Mhuire na nGrást that occurs at various times throughout the film. The final verse of Donal Óg, again sung in Irish towards the end of the film, takes on a particular poignancy — 

 

“For you took what's before me and what's behind me
Took east and west when you wouldn't mind me
Sun, moon and stars from me you've taken
And God as well if I'm not mistaken” 

 

There were a couple of times during the film when it seemed to me that the time-frame had been dislocated and that all the events happened a whole generation earlier. The story starts with the young men emigrating in 1977 and the events of the film occurring in 2007. It actually made more sense to me — for a number of reasons — that the emigration happened in 1947 and that the events of the day were taking place in 1977. In the end, it’s not important. The power of the story still comes through. 

The dialogue is in Irish — hence the Best Foreign Language category — but it’s subtitled and it lends an air of  ‘otherness’ to the film that greatly adds to it. Recommended.

 

 

    

 

 

    

2 comments

  • Maodhog Bolger

    Maodhog Bolger Silsoe, England

    Mick, I've not seen this but your observations strike a chord with me. My very first job in England was hand digging trench along the M1 for the installation of BT cables, back breaking but I met just the characters you describe - men who had worked hard for a lot of years and dreamt of nothing else but going home. One such man was Laughing Mick, he thought me to dig without breaking my back and never missed a day when he added a bit extra to his lunch pack just for me - a generous man with a fine head of thick black hair which made him hard to age. Laughing Mick left home in Limerick and spent his early days hand digging footings (foundations) on housing estates in Manchester pre the mechanical digger age. By the time I met him (1987) and from listening to his stories, I put him squarely in his 70's but it struck me that he was looking out the same windows he did as a lad, a significant insight for me. The external self had changed but the internal self was that 16 year old lad with the dream (the king). Living in a bedsit and on the sub every day, Mick made several attempts to head home but when the money allowed the temptation foiled. Mick finally made it back to the home farm where his brother lived but, as the story goes, only lasted a few short months before passing away, a decent man! Being a young man with my own dream I missed a lot of detail I now wish I hadn't, I didn't glean enough information that would allow me to track down his final resting place so I could visit and thank him for the important lessons he taught me, lessons that would ensure that me and countless like me would live our dreams on the soil on which we stood - such is our success.

    Mick,
    I've not seen this but your observations strike a chord with me. My very first job in England was hand digging trench along the M1 for the installation of BT cables, back breaking but I met just the characters you describe - men who had worked hard for a lot of years and dreamt of nothing else but going home. One such man was Laughing Mick, he thought me to dig without breaking my back and never missed a day when he added a bit extra to his lunch pack just for me - a generous man with a fine head of thick black hair which made him hard to age. Laughing Mick left home in Limerick and spent his early days hand digging footings (foundations) on housing estates in Manchester pre the mechanical digger age. By the time I met him (1987) and from listening to his stories, I put him squarely in his 70's but it struck me that he was looking out the same windows he did as a lad, a significant insight for me. The external self had changed but the internal self was that 16 year old lad with the dream (the king). Living in a bedsit and on the sub every day, Mick made several attempts to head home but when the money allowed the temptation foiled. Mick finally made it back to the home farm where his brother lived but, as the story goes, only lasted a few short months before passing away, a decent man!

    Being a young man with my own dream I missed a lot of detail I now wish I hadn't, I didn't glean enough information that would allow me to track down his final resting place so I could visit and thank him for the important lessons he taught me, lessons that would ensure that me and countless like me would live our dreams on the soil on which we stood - such is our success.

  • Mick

    Mick Aurora, CO

    Maodhog ~ Good to hear from you. I imagine that film will resonate with a lot of people. And though you didn't get the details of laughing Mick's life, I think you probably absorbed more than you remember now. And you got to feel the soul of a situation and that stays with you. That insight you mention above -- "looking out the same he did as a lad" -- that's what is to be understood.

    Maodhog ~
    Good to hear from you. I imagine that film will resonate with a lot of people. And though you didn't get the details of laughing Mick's life, I think you probably absorbed more than you remember now. And you got to feel the soul of a situation and that stays with you. That insight you mention above -- "looking out the same he did as a lad" -- that's what is to be understood.

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