top of page
  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

The Banshees of Inisherin // Film Review

A lot of critics have been quick to call The Banshees of Inisherin one grand metaphor for the Irish Civil War. I would beg to differ.

The Banshees of Inisherin, the latest offering from Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) leans a lot on more on his theatre material than his filmwork. Set on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland, Inisherin only depicts the Civil War insofar as characters walking on cliff edges will see gunfire and explosions on the mainland, and comment as if it were another world. These characters are far more concerned about fitting all their books in one suitcase or wondering why Colm from the pub has taken a disliking to them. In other words, this is a film far less interested in retelling the Civil War than in looking at the toll it took on the Irish spirit, and our collective sense of culture and comradery to this day.

Inisherin stars Colin Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin, a local farmer said to be “one of the good ones” or “a bit dull”, often by the same people, including his own sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon). All Pádraic wants to do is tend to his animals, then journey down to the pub for a “good chat” with his best friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson). Day in, day out, rinse and repeat, always the happier for it. That is until the day comes when, with no prior warning, Colm decides that he doesn’t like Pádraic anymore, and goes on to demand that his dull friend stop trying to speak to him lest there be increasingly dire consequences.

And that is, genuinely, about as complicated as the film’s plot gets. Pádraic wants his friend back, while Colm works the hours away on his fiddle, freed from having to spend precious hours (of which he claims to only have a few left - twelve years at most) indulging his old pal. What builds from here is a web quiet and simmering dramas as both these men and their loved ones sink increasingly into bitter despair over this increasingly unlikely reconciliation. These are two men who have stopped caring for one another only due to the most baffling and convoluted of circumstances, a microcosm for the impact of the Civil War on families who would once break bread, and now torch one another’s homes in the dead of night.

In true McDonagh style, this is achieved through a combination of jet black comedy, rousing but incidental debates and the slow build to an inevitably violent finish. And while Inisherin is certainly the most subversive of McDonagh’s screen works, it does more-or-less fill those boxes, albeit never in the way one might expect.

One of the key areas where the film stands apart in the canon of its director is with its visual style. The trailer caused some panic among Irish people for its cliched imagery more akin to America's ideal of Ireland than the reality, and although the film does indeed look a bit like The Quiet Man at times, these grand, sweeping countryside visuals are generally done with a keen sense of appropriate irony (including one rainbow-embellished shot early on that feels like blatant parody). McDonagh said in the press tour for Three Billboards that with each successive film, he hopes to integrate a bit more of a physical language into his mostly wordy approach to storytelling, and that finally comes to fruition here.

The Banshees of Inisherin is McDonagh's best film to date, in large part because it feels like a natural maturation of themes that have recurred through his other cinematic works. Whereas In Bruges and Three Billboards both resolve with forgiveness and redemption for their characters' violence, Inisherin takes a more sobered take indicative of the war that has sucked out the souls of its island community. Ultimately it is a film far less interested in war than it is in the wounds such violence inflict, and how they can permeate right through to the present. “There are some things that can’t be forgiven,” a character argues late in the film, “and that’s fine too.”

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival 2022.


bottom of page