Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reunite to play feuding friends in The Banshees Of Inisherin

The Guardian
The Guardian

Just six minutes into Martin McDonagh’s new dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, the mild-mannered and happy-go-lucky cow herder Pádraic (played by Golden Globe-winning actor Colin Farrell) bursts out of a dark, dank Irish pub to confront his friend Colm, a melancholy fiddler (played by four-time Golden Globe-nominee Brendan Gleeson). The latter – out of nowhere – has just told Pádraic he doesn’t want to share a pint with him, despite the pair visiting the local shebeen at 2pm every day for as long as anyone can remember.

“Now, if I’d done something to you, just tell me what I’ve done to you,” says Pádraic, visibly rattled and confused. “With all my heart, I’d say sorry. Just stop running away from me like some fool of a moody schoolchild.”

“But you didn’t say anything to me,” Colm bluntly replies. “And you didn’t do anything to me. I just don’t like ya no more.”

In this moment, the shattering of Pádraic’s sweet heart is almost palpable, and Colm’s temperament is a stark contrast to the bucolic setting behind him.

“You do like me,” Pádraic pleads in disbelief, his eyes searching for some glimmer of clarity on the situation.

“I don’t,” Colm replies.

And with that, we’re away on McDonagh’s one-hour and 54-minute jet-black comedy that received a 13-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival in September. Set in 1923 on a small, fictional island off the west coast of Ireland named Inisherin, the film centres on the men’s estrangement and its eventual anarchic consequences.

The complexities of male friendships

What is Colm’s problem? Pádraic aims to find out, and with the help of his sister Siobhán (played by Better Call Saul’s Kerry Condon) and a few islanders, tries to repair the relationship with his friend. Colm, it seems, wants to spend time crafting his magnum opus on his fiddle and sees drinking every day with Pádraic as a waste of time.
Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved Photograph: Jonathan Hession/Disney
  • “Now, if I’d done something to you, just tell me what I’ve done to you,” pleads Pádraic to his estranged friend Colm. Photograph: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“Pádraic can’t understand why Colm doesn’t want to be friends with him any more and won’t accept it,” McDonagh says. “It’s similar to the feelings you feel when you’ve been dumped in a relationship. You think: ‘So did you ever like me, or was I imagining that we were in love?’”

Condon says: “It’s a smart way of playing with those feelings that everyone has in terms of a loving couple – heartbreak and rejection – but doing it with friends so there is a comedy element to it.”

Farrell believes Colm – who is a good 15-20 years older than Pádraic – is over the tedium of his slow-paced life. “I think maybe Colm should have left the island a long time ago,” Farrell says. “I don’t know if he’s got too much wanderlust, or he’s just bored by the seeming monotony of sameness every day or whatever it is.”

The analogy of the Civil War

The movie is set in the same year that the Civil War was raging on the mainland. While this fictional island of Inisherin is not affected, the division between Pádraic and Colm mirrors the tension and gunfire happening across the water.

McDonagh says: “It’s a story where a tiny little war is waging between two fellows at the same time as a bigger one is happening over there.”

Gleeson adds: “The Irish civil war was a tragedy – that’s the context. Through examining it and trying to understand how things can get dragged out of shape, maybe we can face it down and not take that path. I hope the film will remind people that making nasty or harmful decisions has a lasting effect.”

Friends who use shorthand

Farrell, Gleeson and McDonagh have remained friends since making the 2008 film In Bruges, a black comedy set in Belgium in which Farrell and Gleeson play two hitmen whose relationship becomes complicated when one is ordered by his boss to kill the other.

Farrell went on to star in McDonagh’s second film, Seven Psychopaths, and the director admits he has spent years trying to think of a fit for Farrell and Gleeson, one that didn’t tarnish In Bruges.

McDonagh says: “I don’t know if it was the same for the boys, but that was a worry for me. I couldn’t get them back together and do something lesser.”
Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved Photograph: Disney
  • To repair the relationship with his friend, Pádraic seeks the help of his sister Siobhán (played by Kerry Condon) and a few islanders including Dominic (played by Barry Keoghan). Photograph: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

In The Banshees of Inisherin, the familiarity and real-life friendship between the actors makes the dynamic between Pádraic and Colm more believable and highly watchable. In fact, when working on In Bruges, the men reportedly developed a shorthand in the way they spoke to one another, which is evident in this new film.

Gleeson says: “I have great admiration for Colin. I love him as a human being in terms of the way he carries himself. His instincts and his integrity are brilliant. I count him as a very dear friend. He has his heart on his sleeve and brings that to the process.”

Farrell concurs. “I love Brendan,” he says. “I have a height of admiration and respect for him – he’s active, engaged, bright, decent, strong, vulnerable, all of it. The pendulum swings wide with Brendan, from the tenderness that he’s capable of to the godlike wrath that he can exude if needs be. He’s always digging, always asking the big questions.”

Dark comedy at its finest

“I can’t imagine ever passing on anything [McDonagh] writes, because he’s such an extraordinary writer and I’m always so deeply moved emotionally and psychologically by the worlds he creates and the characters that he designs,” Farrell said at a press conference on the Lido in Venice.

The Banshees of Inisherin has all the beloved McDonagh hallmarks: it’s funny, dark, sad and full of humanity. It also brings real-life friends Farrell and Gleeson back together again. Unlike the characters they play, something tells us this friendship is not fragile, but rather, forever.

The Banshees of Inisherin is in cinemas from 26 December.

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