The Banshees of Inisherin movie review: Martin McDonagh’s latest with Colin Farrell is awe-inspiring

Colin Farrell  (The Banshees of Inisherin)
Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin)

It’s 1923 and Padraic Suilleabhain (an adorable Colin Farrell) is a donkey-loving farmer, living on a remote isle, off the West Coast of Ireland. Padraic suspects he’s the second biggest idiot in the village. He may be flattering himself. He is also viciously astute when drunk and prone to acts of lunacy, and Farrell ensures every aspect of this protean eejit rings true.

The Banshees of Inisherin reunites the star with Martin McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson (the trio worked together on In Bruges) and Barry Keoghan (his co-star in The Killing of a Sacred Deer). Farrell is clearly amongst friends. Yet there’s nothing parochial about his performance. For decades, he’s been described as the Irish Brad Pitt. The Irish De Niro. The Irish Jack Nicholson. It’s finally dawned on the world that Farrell isn’t like these legends. He is a legend in his own right.

The film itself is a stone cold classic. Like McDonagh’s last black comedy (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), it’s a visually stylish take on obsession. But it’s more focused and less sentimental. The twee trailer was a ruse (twee sells and McDonagh likes playing to a big gallery). The movie, luckily, is blarney free.

Padraic is horrified when fiddle-player Colm (Gleeson) says their friendship is over. Colm adores Mozart and wants to concentrate on composing music that will last the test of time. He’s got no room in his life for a pal who’s “too nice”. Padraic fails to take the hint.

An increasingly desperate Colm threatens to cut off the fingers on his fiddle-playing hand unless Padraic backs off. But Padraic is nothing if not stubborn. Ignoring the advice of his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon; lovely) and young lay-about Dominic (a spellbinding Keoghan), Padraic hits on a cunning plan. If Colm thinks Padraic’s too nice, maybe the solution is for Padraic to get meaner?

There are numerous twists in this bleak and bloody tale. And every single one of them throws us for a loop but, once key facts are revealed, makes total sense.

Kerry Condon plays Siobhan (Searchlight Pictures)
Kerry Condon plays Siobhan (Searchlight Pictures)

There’s devilry in the details. Padraic lives with Siobhan (the pair, like the siblings in The Power of the Dog, even share a bedroom). As she pores over a book, he shaves in front of a cracked mirror. In James Joyce’s Ulysses, erudite hero Stephen Dedalus describes a “cracked looking-glass” as “a symbol of Irish art”. McDonagh, born and raised in London, is daring his critics to find a suitable label for his film.

Dominic (who fancies Siobhan) is the only person willing to discuss love. Sexual repression is rife on this island. So is sexual dysfunction. But as with the civil war rumbling away in the background, no one’s paying attention.

Dominic, Padraic and Colm are tragic figures. And you need to enjoy crying - I mean, really sobbing - to get a kick out of The Banshees of Inisherin. Really, it deserves to win Baftas and Oscars, but will do just fine without them. This funny/sad story will inspire awe for centuries to come. I reckon McDonagh’s a modern-day Mozart. We’ll never know if I’m right. But I bloody well am.

114mins, cert 15

The Banshees of Inisherin screens at the LFF on Friday October 14 and Sunday October 16 and is on general release from October 21