I've come up with a list of ten movies about the Irish that I've enjoyed. I think all of these films are worth seeing and all increase our understanding of what it means to be Irish.
Here's my list:
Angela's Ashes (1999)
"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." So says the voice-over narration in this film adaptation of Frank McCourts bestselling memoir about growing up poor in Limerick in the 1930s and 40s. The film traces Frank's first communion, first job, and first sexual experience and ends with 19-year-old Frank arriving at the Statue of Liberty. What I like best about this movie is its feeling of melancholy suffused with optimism.
Circle of Friends (1995)
Minnie Driver is captivating as Benny, a spirited, but rather plain, young woman who doesn't want to stay in her Irish village for the rest of her life. She manages to go away to college in Dublin, where she falls in love with the handsome Jack (Chris O'Donnell). This is a bittersweet film that I believe captures how it must have felt to come of age in the 1950s.
The Commitments (1991)
A group of working-class young men from the poorest district of North Dublin form a band that plays soul music. The film follows the ups and downs of the band as they go from gig to gig, performing their own version of numbers like "Mustang Sally" and "Try a Little Tenderness." There's not much plot here, but I found the dialogue, the characters, the energy, and the music irresistible.
The Crying Game (1992)
While guarding a British soldier named Jody who has been taken hostage, IRA volunteer Fergus befriends him. When Jody is killed, Fergus tracks down the soldiers lover Dil, and the pair soon discover that they are sexually attracted to each other. Jaye Davidson creates an unforgettable character as the vulnerable Dil ("Im loud, darling, but never cheap."), and I really enjoyed the unexpected twists and turns of this highly original movie, which was nominated for six Academy Awards.
Hear My Song (1991)
The huckster manager of a run-down Liverpool nightclub has been reduced to misleadingly advertising acts like "Franc Cinatra" to stay afloat financially. Realizing that he must book a box-office draw to rescue his failing business, he travels to Ireland on a quest to recruit a legendary Irish tenor who fled the U.K. years earlier to avoid British tax collectors. This is a small film to be sure, but to my way of thinking its charm and wit make it unusually amusing.
In the Name of the Father (1993)
This movie is based on a true story that began in 1974 when an IRA bomb exploded in England, killing several people. Soon Gerry Conlon, a petty thief from Belfast, was convicted of the bombing. Several of Conlons friends and relatives, including his father, were also jailed. But after languishing behind bars for 14 years, Conlon and his father were completely exonerated and released. The tale of the miscarriage of justice is well-told in this movie, but I think the best thing about the film is the nuanced way the relationship between son and father is developed during their years in prison.