Not waving, but drowning
THE FLAG Directed by Declan Recks. Starring Pat Shortt, Moe Dunford, Ruth Bradley, Brian Gleeson, Simone Kirby, Sorcha Cusack. 12A cert, general release, 84 min On two separate occasions in this very broad Irish comedy (so broad you could, to paraphrase Flann O’Brien, play handball off its backside), Pat Shortt is asked to deliver apologies to our neighbours across the Irish Sea.
“I’m not anti-English,” Shortt’s Harry Hambridge says early on, before expressing affection for David Bowie and – significant, this – the Carry On movies. In a closing patriotic scene, which takes place during the 1916 centenary, Pat’s character acknowledges that Britain gave him a living.
What are they so nervous about? Yes, it’s true that The Flag swells with the sort of gratuitously caricatured English personalities you’d expect to hear created close to closing time in a Glasgow Celtic pub. “Oh jolly good! Spiffing old chap!” they very nearly say while (honestly) An English Country Garden plays on the soundtrack. If the English are not calculating upper-class twits, they are knife-wielding hooligans or dithering rural eccentrics. Still, the English romantic interest (Simone Kirby) – on the rebound from a cockney terrorist – seems nice enough, and The Flag is just as unsubtle in the shorthand it uses to describe its Irish characters.
The reliably charming Shortt does what he can with the bumbling, decent Harry, but the Kilburn builder still feels like something out of a Dick Emery sketch. “We need to do some drinking about this,” Shortt says when he and his pals encounter a prickly dilemma.
To say the plot is full of holes would be to do a disservice to holes. The film is one big hole around which a thin trellis of story has been mounted. Following various tragedies, Harry discovers that an Irish Tricolour once brandished in the GPO by his granddad, has been sitting in a British army barracks for the past century. A preposterous scheme is mounted to steal the item and hand it back to the State. (Because that’s how these things work, you see.)
The excellent cast just about make the creaky old farce tolerable. Moe Dunford is particularly engaging as a former jockey who has developed a pathological fear of horses. Cynical viewers will suspect that, in a panicked last act, he will be forced to overcome his phobia and ride them all to safety. But the script surely couldn’t be that clunky? Could it?
Broad strokes: Pat Shortt and Moe Dunford in The Flag