No place like home
Irish immigrants in the UK are the focus of the quietly powerful KINGS Directed by Tom Collins. Starring Colm Meaney, Donal O’Kelly, Brendan Conroy, Barry Barnes, Donncha Crowley, Seán Ó Tarpaigh, Peadar Ó Treasaigh 15A cert, lim release, 87 min writes M
SCREEN treatments of the Irish emigrant experience have ranged from the glossy romanticism of Far and Away to the raw realism of I Could Read the Sky, with Dermot Healy as an ailing London labourer reflecting on a lifecycle of work, drink and sleep.
The protagonists of Kings are from the west of Ireland. Fleeting flashbacks show them as six sturdy young men when they left Connemara in 1977 with dreams of making their fortune in London. The film reunites them 30 years later for a wake in Cricklewood when one of them dies, and as the drink flows copiously, recriminations, resentments and regrets surface.
As with so many present-day immigrants to Ireland, the men strive to maintain their national identity by conversing with each in their first language, which is Irish. While they’ve never adapted to their adopted country, modern Ireland is a foreign place to them. The outside world has moved on and left them behind, and their sense of displacement is so deep that they no longer have anywhere to call home.
Only one of the six has fulfilled his youthful ambitions. Joe (Colm Meaney) has graduated up the building-trade ladder to form his own successful construction company. Yet Joe is hardly any happier than his old friends, and he has turned for solace to “the rich man’s drink”, cocaine.
The flashbacks contrast unkindly with the ravages of time and booze that line the faces of the hapless Jap and Git (Donal O’Kelly and Brendan Conroy), who are still living together in a squalid little flat. As the wake continues drunkenly under an illuminated shamrock, we get to know and care for all these men in a film that is compassionate and concerned, yet unfailingly honest.
The story’s theatrical origins, in Jimmy Murphy’s play The Kings of the Kilburn Hugh Road, become apparent after the men assemble in the pub’s snug for a long night’s journey into day, but by then we are too caught up in their wrecked lives to be distracted by the stagebound setting. Director Tom Collins, who adapted the play, makes penetrating use of intense close-ups. The actors are flawless in this resonant, melancholy and pertinent reflection on a mostly forgotten generation.
Kings, which is subtitled in English, is the first Irish production submitted as the country’s entry for the best foreign-language film category in the Academy Awards. Given that so many of the Oscar voters are the descendents of immigrants, it may very well strike a chord with them.
Colm Meaney in Kings. Meaney is interviewed in tomorrow’s Irish Times