Ballywalter is a film steeped in semi-restless despair. With most of the action unfolding on a stretch of road that connects the eponymous Down village with the city of Belfast, the camera spends time on various historical landmarks and murals (including that of Lyra McKee), rooting the film in a landscape of uncertain recovery from the off.
Here, an unlikely connection sparks between two weary souls. Eileen (Seána Kerslake) is a London college drop-out with a chip on her shoulder, treading water in her hometown by working as a part-time barista, part-time unlicensed taxi-driver in her cheating ex-boyfriend’s minicab. Shane (Patrick Kielty) is reeling from a drunk-driving incident that saw the fall-out of his marriage, marking time in Ballywalter by commuting to a weekly comedy course in Belfast, in the backseat of Eileen’s cab.
Ballywalter leans easily into the axiom that hard conversations are easier had behind the wheel of a car. Paralleling eyelines and forced confinement loosen tongues as weeks pass, and Shane graduates from the back into the passenger seat. We see curated facades fall either side of the gearstick culminating in an unlikely and often turbulent meeting of minds – and a cathartic communion over their darkest elements.
Though an unseasoned actor, Kielty brings a subtle candour and likeability to the role of Shane. His playing a hopeful (but practically brutal) stand-up comedian in a Northern Irish context also makes for interesting viewing, for those familiar with his life and work. Saying this, it’s Seana Kerslake who blazes a flame straight through this 80-minute feature. The unruly magnetism captured in Eileen make it hard for the focus to stray far from her at any point.
Director Prasanna Puwanarajah and Northern-Irish writer Stacey Gregg’s attempt at a bowtie ending also gives Kerslake’s character a unique power. While Shane pokes at the embers of his foiled fairy tale and watch them suddenly catch light, Eileen is left picking over the ashes of her aspirations, all that perhaps could but ultimately, wasn’t to be. As if by affirming her outsider status, fighting what feels like a losing race, it seems as if this film is asking us to consider those for whom despair is a transient state alongside those for whom its absence is only fleeting.
Words: Emer Tyrrell
Illustration: Katelyn McKenna
Director: Prasanna Puwanarajah
Talent: Seána Kerslake, Patrick Kielty
Release Date: September 22