Saturday 24 February 2018

Movies: Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne **

(15A, limited release)

Paul Whitington

A German/Irish co-production written and directed by Conor McDermottroe, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne feels a bit like the story of Job transported to a County Sligo setting. Through the course of a bitter 90-odd minutes, the unfortunate protagonist endures such various and devastating misfortunes that you yearn for either him or you to be finally put out of your misery, because somehow Occi Byrne's sufferings are mirrored by the viewer's own.

Martin McCann is Occi, who grows up in a 70s Irish country town burdened with the stigma of having an unmarried mother. Bridget Byrne (Jodie Whittaker) is emotionally fragile and, as she slides from breakdown to breakdown, Occi is left to fend for himself in a casually cruel environment. After he's rolled down a sand dune in an oil drum by bullies, he develops a tendency to turn violent when provoked. And when he grows up, his temper lands him in a ramshackle mental asylum and changes the course of his life.

McDermottroe's film was adapted from his own one-man show, and therein lies its principal problem: what is acceptable as vibrant onstage anecdote is not so palatable when dramatised into a parade of misery.

In fleshing out Occi's story, McDermottroe has not succeeded in surrounding him with believable characters, and instead we get a succession of Irish literary clichés including the amorous priest, the remorseless father, the martyred mother and other one-dimensional stereotypes.

A good cast does its best, but ultimately Swansong does not convince as either a story or a film.

Irish Independent

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