The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THAT THEY MAY FACE THE RISING SUN | The Movie Waffler


A writer fears his content life in rural Ireland may be coming to an end.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Pat Collins

Starring: Barry Ward, Anna Bederke, Philip Dolan, Lalor Roddy, Sean McGinley, Brendan Conroy


"There's not much drama, more day to day stuff."

That's how the central figure of That They May Face the Rising Sun attempts to describe the book he's currently writing. It's a statement that could sum up director Pat Collins' film, an adaptation of the final novel of John McGahern. This is a film almost completely devoid of the sort of elements screenwriting gurus insist are essential. There's practically no conflict and the biggest drama comes when two old men reenact a scene from The Playboy of the Western World. It's about the simple joy of living day to day, of friends drifting in and out of your life and your kitchen, of being content with your lot. It's beautiful.

Set in pre-Celtic Tiger rural Ireland, the film will likely draw comparisons with recent Irish films like The Quiet Girl and Lakelands, but the contemporary film it has most in common with is Jim Jarmusch's Paterson. Like that film it's centred on a quiet man with literary pretensions who lives with a beautiful and artistic foreign wife in a community that looks up to him. Such are the similarities, I wonder if Jarmusch read McGahern's novel.

That They May Face the Rising Sun review

Joe (Barry Ward) and Kate Ruttledge (Anna Bederke) met in London, where the latter worked as an assistant to an art gallery owner. They left the hustle and bustle of the English capital to begin a new life in the west of Ireland, making a fist of running a small farm while Kate remains in her role, making monthly trips to London. Joe has had modest success with a previous novel and is in the process of trying to fashion a followup. His inspiration comes from the people who wander in and out of his life, who make up the film's supporting cast, all played by aging men and women who possess the sort of beautifully craggy faces we see on screen too rarely.

Like Paterson, Collins' film is largely composed of vignettes, most of which involve some neighbour popping in for a chat with Joe and Kate, or Joe similarly checking in with one of his elderly neighbours. There's Jamesie (Philip Dolan), a local farmer and the town gossip, who walks in a right shoulder, left foot fashion which gives him the appearance of an inquisitive duck. There's Patrick (Lalor Roddy, quickly becoming one of my favourite character actors), a cantankerous old duffer who seems skilled at everything from carpentry to laying out the dead. There's Bill (Brendan Conroy), an intellectually challenged man whose life was damned by the stigma of being born out of wedlock in Catholic Ireland. There's Jamesie's brother Johnny (Sean McGinley), who occasionally returns from England, where he works a demeaning job cleaning toilets in a car plant.

That They May Face the Rising Sun review

The interactions veer from kindness to cruelty, from withholding emotions to spitting them out as though trying to quash a fire. Joe acts as a neutral party observing the tos and fros of men who have known each other for longer than he's been alive. He's like Patrick Kavanagh's poet watching life pass him by on the Inniskeen Road, but unlike Kavanagh's narrator, there's no bitterness here. Joe doesn't feel like he's missing out on anything. In his eyes he has it all: a woman he loves, a home in a picture postcard landscape and work that satisfies him.

The closest the film comes to introducing conflict is when Kate's uncle (John Olohan) arrives from London with the news that he is planning to retire from running the family gallery and that it can only remain in operation if Kate returns to London. Kate is given until the following May to make a decision, and as the narrative ticks off Christmas and New Year's Eve we grow apprehensive that Joe's idyllic life might come to an end. Being an Irish male and thus terrified of conflict, Joe naturally avoids broaching the subject with his wife, but it occupies his thoughts and finds his way into his book, which morphs into an elegy for a life he expects to soon expire.

That They May Face the Rising Sun review

The film itself is an elegy to a disappearing Ireland, to a time when ambition was for those who left, while those who remained found either contentment or madness. It's a film about pausing to take it all in, whether it be the way the slats of a half-constructed outhouse frame the sky or the first spring warbles of a distinctive songbird. Collins bookmarks his scenes with images of the Irish countryside that are so beautiful you'd happily gaze at them for the remainder of the film. But this film is all about its human characters, and how wonderfully human they are. We fall in love with every one of them, even those who can't love themselves. We listen to their bad jokes, their expressions of hope, their confessions of regret. We watch as Joe and Kate glance at one another during someone else's monologue, and we admire how easily they can sit in the shared silence of a love that doesn't need verbal validation. We're touched by all of it.

That They May Face the Rising Sun is in UK/ROI cinemas from April 26th.