As Arracht begins its long awaited run on the big screen, we revisit our review of Tom Sullivan’s film from April 2020, when it was originally scheduled to be released.
Director: Tom Sullivan
Talent: Dónall Ó Héalai, Saise Ní Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Michael McElhatton, Eoin Ó Dubhghaill
Writer and director Tom Sullivan’s austere tale of murder, loss and redemption unfolding against the backdrop of the Great Famine makes for an enjoyable viewing experience, though a thin plot detracts from the film’s potential.
Colmán Sharkey and his family live in Connemara in the 1840s, pillars of their Irish-speaking community, fishing and brewing poitín, which Colmán never touches except to hand out to grateful villagers. An Irish Royal Navy deserter joins Colmán at the behest of the parish priest, and speaks of the rotting smell which precedes the terrible blight ruining the potato crop in large swathes of the country. Yet Colmán is hopeful – perhaps the blight is constrained to those parts. Hopeful too that the English aristocrat whose land they live on will be reasonable, and not raise the rates beyond everyone’s ability to pay. But the deserter plays his part one night, and all of Colmán’s hopes are dashed. His family is ruined, his life reduced to a bare, Gollum-like existence, surviving on fish and seaweed in a dank crevice off the mainland. Then he meets a young girl, and the flame of hope flickers again.
Let’s begin with the criticism: the plot is undercooked, a sketch of a narrative rather than the final draft. I would be lying if I did not say that I was disappointed by the simple, oddly tension-less resolution. That said, Sullivan has made some fantastic choices. The actors, especially the lead Dónall Ó Héalai, are compelling, conveying pathos-filled dignity or real malevolence, depending on their dramatic role. DP Kate McCullough finds a kind of Irish magic-hour, everything bathed in slate- or green-grey light. Kíla’s score is immersive. And the constant Gaelic speech rhythms and vocal intonations are deeply affective, transporting you directly into a fragile world, vulnerable to imperialist cruelty and the shocking natural catastrophe it helped to wreak.
Words: Tom Lordan