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Film review: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) – dir: Martin McDonagh

by Darren Cunningham


Irish director Martin McDonagh has teamed up for a second time with Irish actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who had a collaboration for the well-received hitman black comedy In Bruges in 2008, which has deservedly garnered a cult following.  

Set in the early 1920’s during the Irish Civil War on the fictitious island of Inisherin away from the mainland conflict, Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) have been best pals and drinking buddies at the local pub, until one day Colm decides he doesn’t want Pádriac to be his friend anymore and he doesn’t give any objective rhyme or reason that Pádriac can understand. In the process, Pádriac keeps hounding Colm to find out why. What transpires is a dark dramedy of character reveal and situations that might also be considered allegorical, considering the chaos that is happening on the Irish mainland and Colm’s, (who plays the fiddle), off-kilter desire to leave a creative legacy behind.

It is not relevant to know the history of the Irish Civil War, as the film takes place on the periphery of the Irish Free State being formed. The film utilizes the isolation of the island community that Pádriac and Colm reside on, focusing on several inhabitants’ daily lives. These include Pádriac’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) with whom he lives, their cute donkey Jenny, Colm and his dog Sammy, and Dominic (Barry Keoghan) a young village larrikin and friend of Pádriac’s whose volatile local policeman father is abusive to his son in more ways than one. Colm gives Pádriac an ultimatum, that if he doesn’t stay away from him, he will action his threat. This extreme behaviour becomes a major crux of the film’s unusual narrative, which also highlights the man Pádriac is and the man that Colm is becoming.

Director McDonagh appears to have a similar theme running through his films, regardless of what is going on in our lives and whatever we do, cause and effect seems to take a backseat. There are consequences for actions, but for the most part, it doesn’t seem to matter who someone is or how they act and behave, how we live is existentially arbitrary. 

Phenomena happens which can be perceived in both positive and negative form which shapes us and can’t often be controlled. If one is self-aware, we may also face up and challenge ourselves with a tad more courage too. Pádriac, a decent man, learns he might not always be “nice”, (an inherent trait of his persona), especially when confronting some of his own actions triggered by Colm.

What elevates Banshees of Inisherin beyond the sharp writing, direction, tonal cinematography and evocative music, are the film’s performances which are a major focus of the piece. All the players hit the ball out of the park and the film is a prime example of skilled acting and characterization making this original, black and even ambiguous film as compelling as it is. One of the best films of 2022. Highly recommend!