St. Patrick's Day Parade pics from The News-Dispatch

Parade Princess Rowan Hoener and Parade Prince Dexter Hart keep warm while riding in a float during the Michigan City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in downtown Michigan City.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


For such a small island, Ireland casts a huge shadow. In 2017, 30 million Americans told the U.S. Census Bureau they have Irish ancestry. If America is a melting pot, the Irish are one of the chief ingredients.

And yet, many Americans’ conception of Ireland is woefully simplistic. It’s a jumbled mix of corned beef (which is English), bagpipes (which are Middle Eastern) and leprechauns (which aren’t real).

Thankfully, the Irish have always been pretty good at telling their story. Few places have a more dedicated and longer literary history. Here are some movies to watch this Saint Patrick’s Day if you want a look at the real Ireland.

“Darby O’Gill and the Little People”

A lot of Irish cinema deals with myth-busting. But to do that, there needs to be a firm handle on the myths that will be busted. This oft-overlooked 1959 Disney classic is one of the most comprehensive treatments on Irish mythology. Legendary Irish king Brian Boru is name-checked. Leprechauns and pops of gold factor prominently in the plot. There are multiple jokes about potatoes (the Irish Potato Famine is the only genocide you’re allowed to laugh at).

But “Darby” succeeds where other stereotype-ridden fare fails because it’s actually really good. There’s that type of whiz-bang energy only prime Disney could muster. It’s warm and colorful and has some truly excellent special effects, highlighted by a banshee that’s so weird and scary it’s traumatized generations of kids who just wanted to see the funny leprechauns dance.

There’s one big reason to watch “Darby,” and it’s Albert Sharpe. The veteran Irish actor plays the ritual O’Gill, a man battling against both leprechaun royalty and the inevitability of death and decay. And he’s sensational, somehow mining genuine emotional paths from his ridiculous role in this silly Disney movie. It’s uncomplicated and rife with generalizations, but “Darby” has more than enough charms to be plucked from Disney obscurity.

“Bloody Sunday”

Switching gears sharply here. If “Darby” is the mythic Ireland, “Bloody Sunday” is the real thing. It’s not a documentary, but it’s about as close as you can get. Paul Greengrass’s breakthrough is a nearly exact replication of the events of January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers fired into a group of Irish Republican protesters in Derry, Northern Ireland. The soldiers killed 14 and injured 15 more. The event was one of the definitive moments of The Troubles, a long and brutal conflict between the British and Irish nationalists that dominated the island for the latter half of the 20th century.

The actors are almost all no names. There’s no music, the only soundtrack is the gunshots and the screams of the dying. Greengrass puts his camera on the ground, darting between piles of rubble.

The effect is total immersion. It doesn’t do any preaching or explaining. It just drops the viewer into the carnage. “Bloody Sunday” isn’t a fun watch, but it’s a necessary one, a vital document about the broad decisions made by politicians and the minute lives of the people who deal with the fallout.

“The Wind that Shakes the Barley”

The Troubles don’t have a specific start date. You could trace Irish/British tensions back 1000+ years if you wanted to. But “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,“ which is one of the best movies of the 21st century, captures one of the boiling points.

Named after an Irish folk song about the failed rebellion of 1798, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” portrays the Irish revolution of 1920, and the later Irish Civil War that started after Irish politicians clashed over whether their independence from Britain was complete enough. Director Ken Loach captures it all. The highs and the lows, the blood and the beauty.

It’s an enormous story, and Loach wisely tells it in miniature, largely focusing on two brothers who find themselves on opposite ends of the Civil War. Cillian Murphy plays Damien O’Donovan, who wants a unified nation and fights with the Irish Republican Army. And Pádraic Delaney is Teddy O’Donovan, who just wants the violence to stop.

It’s an all-time great war movie, but Loach goes for more. He shows the lush greens of the Irish countryside and juxtaposes them against the red blood that made it the way it is. It’s a story of young men who grew up hearing about revolution actually fighting in one. And, tragically, the cracks within revolutions that solidify into fractures, tearing families apart. “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” is violent, sure. But it’s the rarest type of violence: the type with a soul.

“In The Name of the Father”

He only exists to do prestige Oscar-bait now, but there was a time when Daniel Day-Lewis was the most exciting young actor on the planet. Jim Sheridan’s “In the Name of the Father” captures him when he only had one Oscar, and could still look young and skinny, a fleeting portrait of the man before the legend.

Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, a young man from Belfast who doesn’t believe in much. That’s until he gets falsely convicted of planting an IRA bomb in London that kills five people. Conlon’s false confession brings a host of people into jail with him, including his fiercely loyalist aunt (her wall is adorned with framed pictures of the British royalty) and his father, an Irishman named Giuseppe (Pete Postlewaite).

It’s between Day-Lewis and Postlewaite that the movie really works. It’s just two of the best actors of their respective generations tearing into each other. There’s a lot going on in “In The Name of the Father.” We get a look at prison politics, a behind the scenes peek at the ramshackle IRA, a dive into London subcultures and a heathy bit of legal drama. But the movie is best when it’s ultimately about parents and their children, something everybody, Irish or not, can relate to.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.