Around the Island

An ‘enchanting and lyrical’ Irish film at Movies at the Library


The great Gaels of Ireland

Are men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry, 

And all their songs are sad. 

Those words are from the English poet G.K. Chesterton. They were published in 1911 as part of “The Ballad of the White Horse,” an account in verse of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex -— sometimes regarded as the first king of England.

But they apply as well to a battle between right and wrong as seen through the eyes of the citizens of the small village of Redhills in County Cavan, Ireland. The year is 1957 and the hostilities center around Tara Maguire, a beautiful and independent young woman (splendidly played by Robin Wright), who takes on the parish priest (Alan Devlin), the local constable (Albert Finney) and just about everyone else when she bears a son out of wedlock and refuses to name the father. The scandal that ensues is the text of “The Playboys,” an Irish film released in 1992 by the Samuel Goldwyn Company.

“The Playboys” was directed by Gillies Mackinnon; written by Kerry Crabbe and Shane Connaughton, who was nominated for an Oscar for “My Left Foot.” It runs 117 minutes and will be shown downstairs at the Shelter Island Public Library at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 10.

The movie is both merry and sad. Merry when the Playboys, a rag-tag troupe of traveling actors, come to town. They bring a much-needed breath of fresh air and fun to a town that has yet to see television. Sad when Tara must contend with the restrictive and harsh realities of small-town pettiness and opprobrium for an unwed mother.

Janet Maslin, in the New York Times, called the film “enchanting and lyrical, superbly picturesque.” She praised Connaughton’s script for paying “sly and affectionate attention to detail … It weaves its magic out of gentle touches rather than grand passions.”

At its core, the story is a love triangle. There’s the fiercely defiant Tara, of course; the constable, newly sober with only a fragile hold on equilibrium; and Tom, the dashing, motorcycle-riding, new-on-the-scene actor (Aidan Quinn). Tom and Tara meet when Tom tries to steal one of Tara’s chickens. They play cat-and-mouse under the puffy, glowering, jealous eyes of Constable Hegarty, who believes having Tara’s love could redeem him.

Surrounding them are characters lovingly and forgivingly drawn from Connaughton’s memories of his boyhood life in Redhills. The priest, Father Malone, wants Tara to confess her sins and repent; he also regards the theatrical troupe’s doings as an affront to decency. There’s the principal Playboy, Freddie (Milo O’Shea), who nearly steals the film with his drag appearance in a hastily-staged take-off on “Gone with the Wind.” And there are IRA smugglers, worried farmers, watchful children, village women with beady eyes, tart tongues and judgmental ways.

It’s a very Irish stew, quite suitable for the week before St. Patrick’s Day. As Janet Maslin wrote, “It’s a lovely and enveloping…film,” and a solid entry into the archive of the Irish cinema’s Golden Age. Please join us for this one. Bring a pal; you’ll both enjoy it.