Empire (UK)

No./20 Bringing a Greek tragedy to an Irish village

God’s Creatures’ codirector­s break down their rainswept parable about a small-town predator


A MOTHER’S IMPOSSIBLE decision drives God’s Creatures, a bracing psychologi­cal drama that filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer describes as a “mythic Greek tragedy” set in an Irish fishing village. The mother, Aileen, is played by Emily Watson, who Holmer and her co-director Saela Davis wanted so desperatel­y for the role that they wrote her a letter saying as much.

“When we first got to chat to her, there was this electricit­y that was running through the process,” says Holmer. Playing her son Brian: a pre-oscar-nomination, pre-hollywood heat Paul Mescal, who read for the part fresh from Normal People. Fans of Mescal’s usual gentle-natured screen presence will be in for a shock. “He was very willing to go to these dark places in order to explore the psychology of the character,” remembers Davis.

Brian returns home from Australia only to become the prime suspect in a local sexual-assault case, forcing Aileen, who herself has survived violence, to choose between loyalty to her son or the victim, co-worker Sarah (The Nightingal­e’s Aisling Franciosi). “We built this backstory for Brian that involves violence that he’s experience­d in and outside of the home,” says Davis. Mescal channelled his character’s past into a physically tortured performanc­e. “It’s like a tremor or a tension that he’s holding in his body that could be released at any moment,” describes Homer. Until things turn sour, however, the filmmakers aimed to make viewers root for the mother-son relationsh­ip, which all came down to Watson and Mescal’s chemistry. “We had this vacant hotel in Ireland and they played hide-and-seek as one of their first tasks,” says Davis. “We really wanted to build that chemistry between the two of them and then move it into that darker space.”

As important to their story was the location, with the County Donegal-set community acting as a microcosm of a broader society. Holmer emphasises that the women in the community were especially important: “There were different representa­tions of what it means to be a survivor, to have strength and to be defiant.” The confines of the village may be tiny, but God’s Creatures has big things to say.


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main: Paul Mescal as Brian; On the set of
God’s Creatures;
Mescal with Emily Watson as his mum, Aileen.
Clockwise from main: Paul Mescal as Brian; On the set of God’s Creatures; Mescal with Emily Watson as his mum, Aileen.

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