6 August 2014 | robert-temple-1
A magnificent elegiac poem set on the Wexford coast
It is difficult to believe that this is the first feature film directed by Stephen Brown (whoever he is, as nothing is recorded of him on IMDb). Brown shows unmistakable signs of being a master even though he is so new. At the beginning of his directorial career, he is already far ahead of so many directors who have been at it for years. Since it cannot be experience, it must be talent. The screenplay is written by John Banville, based on his own novel. Banville comes from County Wexford in Ireland, where this film was entirely set and shot on location on the Wexford coast, which is on the eastern side of Ireland, facing Wales across the Irish Sea. Indeed, it will surprise no one that it was made on the Wexford coast, considering the title of the film and that the sea is in a way the central character in the story. The lead in the film is played by the actor Ciaran Hinds. I wish I knew how to pronounce his Irish first name, but until corrected, I shall call him 'Kieran' when speaking. He has appeared in 91 films and is well known as a supporting actor. But here he gives a bravura performance in a lead role, finely judged, perfectly modulated, and shows what stuff he is really made of. He clearly always had it in him, and at last he got to prove it. Well done, Hinds! He is well supported by Sinead Cusack, Charlotte Rampling, Rufus Sewell, and the dazzling Natascha McElhone, with a smile made of sunlight (and often shot in it). Cusack is filmed dying of cancer, and it takes a brave actress devoted to her craft to allow herself to look like that, and to speak wistful lines with ironical humour at the same time. Rampling, the master of the inscrutable, is, well you guessed it, inscrutable. Her last line in the film makes quite an impact, though before she spoke it, I had guessed. Sewell is called upon to play a rather flippant fellow, and has no trouble in doing so. A great deal of the film takes the form of flashbacks, and the child actors in the film are very good: Matthew Dillon plays Young Max (Hinds being old Max), and Missy Keating plays the girl twin, but I fear I am unsure of the name of the boy who plays the boy twin, as these two characters are not named on the IMDb cast list. The film and Hinds are haunted by the most bizarre and horrible tragedy, and an air of ravaging nostalgia is evoked brilliantly by the director. The main action of the film takes place after the death of his wife (Cusack), when Hinds revisits a seaside town on the Wexford coast, where he had had the memorable experiences of his youth, which shaped his entire life. We see these experiences and events in vivid flashbacks, and we come to understand fully why they have haunted Hinds for the rest of his life. The film is not a cheerful one, and anyone feeling depressed, or grieving, should probably not watch it. For those who can survive watching a film with a great deal of sadness in it, it is the equivalent of a major literary work, and of course it is derived from a novel scripted by the novelist himself, so it retains all of its high literary qualities, which are so well served by the director. It is certainly a high point in Irish cinema. I await the next work by Stephen Brown with great expectations. As for John Banville, he has been producing important work for the cinema for some time now. He did the excellent screenplay for THE LAST September (1999, see my review), for ALBERT NOBBS (2011), and for the excellent Irish TV series QUIRKE, based on his own novel (2014, see my forthcoming review). He has also worked with the talented Irish director Thaddeus O'Sullivan (writing SEASCAPE, 1994), who directed the amazing THE HEART OF ME (2002, see my review) as well as the superb series SINGLE-HANDED (2010, see my review). Those creative Irish can get up to things, and we had better keep on our eye on them. And now there is a new one, Stephen Brown, to watch out for.