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That They May Face the Rising Sun: The best Irish film in a very long time

An Cailín Ciúin fans should start queueing now. Pat Collins has made an exquisite adaptation of John McGahern’s final novel

That They May Face the Rising Sun
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Director: Pat Collins
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Barry Ward, Anna Bederke, Lalor Roddy, Ruth McCabe, Phillip Dolan, Seán McGinley, Phillip Dolan
Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins

Fans of An Cailín Ciúin should start queuing now. Pat Collins, the contemplative visual poet behind Silence, digs deep into the terroir with his exquisite adaptation of John McGahern’s final novel. The veteran documentarian and visual artist, who profiled McGahern in his 2005 film A Private World, knows his subject with the same exactitude that the writer knew the Leitrim that scaffolds his book.

Joe (Barry Ward) and Kate (Anna Bederke) have returned to this lakelands spot during the 1970s. He’s a writer who grew up in the townland; she is an artist and gallery owner. Their peaceful lives mirror the manuscript Joe is working on: “Not much in the way of drama, just the day-to-day stuff.” Their door is always open – and the teapot full – for wandering locals. “News” is valuable social currency.

When married neighbours Jamesie (Phillip Dolan) and Mary (Ruth McCabe) welcome (for a time) brother Johnny (Seán McGinley) home from London, it’s a big event. An autumn romance for a local garage owner (John Olohan) is similarly impactful among the rustling leaves, tending of sheep, and quotidian rhythms. Songs and rosaries mark death. Marriage calls for drinking and dancing. As Jamesie has it, “The rain comes down. The sun shines. Grass grows. Children grow old and die. That’s the holy all of it. We all know it full well but can’t even whisper it.”

The provincial life, told in delicate movements in a script by Collins and Eamon Little, asks big questions about the nature of happiness. A half-finished garden structure is emblematic of a larger temporal standstill.


Despite the quietude and Richard Kendrick’s Zen-like cinematography, there are sharp edges. The poignantly damaged Bill (Brendan Conroy) lives as a serf because he is “illegitimate”; the great Lalor Roddy suffers fools badly as the prickly local handyman, Patrick. “Christmas brings out the eejit in everybody,” he tells Joe when the latter visits the shabby shepherd’s hut where he lives one cold December morning.

The best Irish film in a very long time.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic