Dancing at Lughnasa

November 13, 1998 0 By Fans
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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)

Pat O'Connor

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


Gerard McSorley



Meryl Streep

Kate 'Kit' Mundy

Michael Gambon

Father Jack Mundy

Catherine McCormack

Christina 'Chrissy' Mundy

Kathy Burke

Margaret 'Maggie' Mundy

Sophie Thompson

Rose 'Rosie' Mundy

Brid Brennan

Agnes 'Aggie' Mundy

Rhys Ifans

Gerry Evans

Darrell Johnston

Michael 'Mike' Mundy

Lorcan Cranitch

Danny Bradley

John Kavanagh

Father Carlin

Marie Mullen

Vera McLoughlin

Dawn Bradfield

Sophie McLoughlin

Peter Gowen

Austin Morgan

Kate O'Toole


Five sisters embrace the spirit of a people.


Official Website:
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)
(42 Screens)

Gross: $2,361,632
(28 March 1999)

Technical Specs


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:
[to Maggie]
Don't I know his name is Gerry. What have I been calling him? Saint Patrick?

User Review

Play's significance lost on filmakers

Rating: 5/10

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
to avoid.

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.