Not wav­ing, but drown­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

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

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