Dancing at LughnasaNovember 13, 1998
Five unmarried sisters make the most of their simple existence in rural Ireland in the 1930s.
Release Year: 1998
Rating: 6.2/10 (2,089 voted)
Stars: Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Gerard McSorley
A young boy tells the story of growing up in a fatherless home with his unmarried mother and four spinster aunts in 1930's Ireland. Each of the five women, different from the other in temperament and capability, is the emotional support system, although at times reluctantly, for each other, with the eldest assuming the role of a 'somewhat meddling' overseer. But then into this comes an elderly brother, a priest too senile to perform his clerical functions, who has "come home to die" after a lifetime in Africa; as well, there also arrives the boy's father, riding up on a motorcycle, only to announce that he's on his way to Spain to fight against Franco. Nevertheless, life goes on for the five sisters, although undeniably affected by the presence of the two men, they continue to cope as a close-knit unit… until something happens that disrupts the very fabric of that cohesiveness beyond repair.
Writers: Brian Friel, Frank McGuinness
Kate 'Kit' Mundy
Father Jack Mundy
Christina 'Chrissy' Mundy
Margaret 'Maggie' Mundy
Rose 'Rosie' Mundy
Agnes 'Aggie' Mundy
Michael 'Mike' Mundy
Five sisters embrace the spirit of a people.
Sony Pictures Classics |
Release Date: 13 November 1998
Filming Locations: Ardmore Studios, Herbert Road, Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland
Opening Weekend: £97,077
(27 September 1998)
(28 March 1999)
Did You Know?
Original choices to star were Frances McDormand and Kate Winslet.
Kate 'Kit' Mundy:
Does Mr. Evans ever wonder how Christina cloths and feeds Michael? Does he ask her? Does Mr. Evans care? Beasts in fields have more concern for their young than that creature has.
Agnes 'Aggie' Mundy:
Do you ever listen to yourself, Kate? You are such a damned righteous bitch! And his name is Gerry. Gerry. Gerry!
[Storms out of room]
Kate 'Kit' Mundy:
Don't I know his name is Gerry. What have I been calling him? Saint Patrick?
Play's significance lost on filmakers
What distinguishes stage from screen? If a viewer had only Brian Friel's
play, `Dancing at Lughnasa' and its cinematic adaptation to judge from, he
or she might be tempted to answer that, while stage is highly engaging and
meaningful, screen is superficial, insulting, and thin in content. Friel's
play is structured in such a way that a film version necessarily provides a
fascinating comparison of the two mediums. However, director Pat
O'Connor's efforts tend to demonstrate the weaknesses of cinema rather than
the strengths. Adapting a play to the screen has often proved to be a
tricky business; it involves some pitfalls which this film does not manage
Screen is extremely literal. It allows for–in fact, often demands– a
sense of realism seldom conveyed on stage. The makers of `Dancing at
Lughnasa' are clearly appreciative of this fact, and have made valiant, if
not always successful, allowances for it. The primary result of their
efforts is a heightened sense of setting. The world these characters
inhabit feels real. We get shot after shot of Irish countryside; set and
costume design seem perfect for Ireland in the 1930s. Mark Geraghty's
production design is one of the best things about this film. Additionally,
excellent accent work by all the actors proves perfectly convincing and
depth to the setting.
However, such a literal medium has its drawbacks. In particular, young
Michael's narration, which was used to achieve a specific effect in the
play, seems unnecessary here. The play's Michael is full-grown and speaks
young Michael's lines as his `memories' take place in the action on stage.
The film makers did well to recognize that there was no cinematic
for this; having the adult narrator speak the child's lines would have
seemed ridiculous. However, in removing that aspect of the narrator's
they stripped away most of his significance, as well. The film's narrator
seems like an afterthought, occasionally intruding into the action to tell
us that what we are seeing is a memory. We could easily forget that the
events are, in fact, happening in flashback.
While some of the abstract elements of Friel's original play do not
translate well onto the screen, individual performances are only aided by
the medium. Since film is not hindered by the simple vocal requirements of
stage, the actors are able to convey much more subtlety of meaning. The
players in this film version are, without exception, excellent. Meryl
Streep stands out as the proper, reserved Kate. Her manner is nervous and
slightly shrill, but conveys genuine concern for her sisters. When Kate
opens up and allows herself to dance, Streep shows a joyful abandon which
believable and pleasant to see. Another standout performance is delivered
by Michael Gambon in the role of Father Jack. His lines are spoken with
calm assurance, betraying Jack's senility only by their complete lack of
relevance. Gambon's distant eyes and quiet detachment reinforce the
that he exists in a world entirely different from the rest of the family, a
point which is absolutely crucial to his character. Supporting characters
are also portrayed dead-on. This film has some of the best acting that
could have been hoped for.
Despite these considerable advantages, the movie runs into trouble when it
tries to adapt Friel's plot to the screen. Film is so much more visual
theater that it demands a great deal of variation in order to keep the
viewer interested. Since we do not have the benefit of the actors'
presence, we need other things to hold our attention. In attempting to add
variety to the play's structure, screenwriter Frank McGuinness breaks up
Friel's original dialogue into smaller scenes, most of which involve
household chores. McGuinness also tries to represent some events which the
play's dialogue only alludes to. The result is a film which is so
fragmented that we lose sight its content. Friel's dialogue is integrally
important to his play, and the same is true for the film. However, the way
that the film breaks up this dialogue among tiny scenes is extremely
distracting. We lose sight not only of the dialogue's meaning, but of the
relationships between characters. Since the adapted structure requires
the five sisters rarely appear in the same scene together, it is very
difficult to get any sense of the dynamic in the household. Ultimately, so
much time is spent with action rather than dialogue that the characters
a great deal of their depth. Perhaps film makers did not trust their
audience to be as interested in the characters as in the
It is somewhat unjust to evaluate an adapted play simply in light of the
original. However, this cinematic version fails to hold up even on its own
terms. It is difficult to conceive what value those who have not been
exposed to the original play could see in this adaptation. What we get is
good-looking, but ultimately insubstantial, portrait of five women who
all stand to let their hair down a little bit more than they do. I can't
help but think that Friel had more in mind than demonstrating the value of
letting one's hair down.