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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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