Tuesday 23 July 2019

Why John Michael McDonagh has made us so angry

The London-Irish filmmaker says he doesn't want 'Calvary', his latest movie, to be considered an 'Irish' film.

John Michael McDonagh
John Michael McDonagh
Bob Geldof speaks at the Let's Stay Together event in London - his intervention was inappropriate
Dylan Moran with Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

Joe O'Shea

As the Scots passionately debate their identity and future, two London-Irishmen have spoken up to challenge our own sense of identity and self-worth. And they have been roundly slapped down for it.

Film-maker John Michael McDonagh delivered some (what he would consider) harsh truths for the Irish film industry and film-makers.

And in London, Bob Geldof managed to do something unique in the midst of this deeply partisan debate on Scottish independence - unite public opinion across these islands in the loudly expressed belief that Sir Bob should (as so many tweeted) "shut the f**k up".

McDonagh, in an interview given to publicise his latest movie, Calvary, said he did not want it to be considered "an Irish film" because he did not find Irish movies to be "technically that accomplished" or "intelligent".

Cue a social-media storm and howls from the cheap seats that if McDonagh didn't want movies like The Guard and Calvary to be considered "Irish" - he shouldn't have accepted €1.7m in taxpayer's money from the Irish Film Board to make them.

And it is a good point. As is the point that McDonagh has no problem setting his non-Irish films in Ireland, filling them full of what you could call broad Irish stereotypes and then shooting them with an Irish cast and crew (despite their supposed technical failings).

However, what many missed, in the rush to erect a scaffold for McDonagh, was that Calvary star Brendan Gleeson, in the very same interview, had some equally forthright views on the wider issue of Irish society and Irish people.

Gleeson talked about the sense of "rage" against the politicians, the bankers and the "paedophile priests". But he added: "it tends to be muted and a little bit repressed".

"People are not marching in the streets and burning buildings down in the way, maybe, that the Greeks let off steam about their situation."

Gleeson, and others, have, of course, pointed to this peculiarity in the Irish psyche before, the failure to turn rage into action. But as a true-blue Dub and a national icon, the gruff, salt-of-the-earth actor has a licence to point these failings out to us. We welcome it and applaud him for showing a bit of passion. For giving us a well-deserved kick up the arse.

John Michael McDonagh, on the other hand, is London-Irish. The son of immigrants who has the temerity to come back, take our tax-payers' cash and make films here.

Bob Geldof is, if anything, worse. The only Irishman alive who Bono looks to and thinks, "Jesus, people really love to hate that guy".

Geldof pushes a lot of buttons. He is a motor-mouth, ex-Blackrock College boy, a ferocious self-starter who got the hell out of Ireland to become a multi-millionaire and an honorary knight of the British Empire. And Sir Bob has been slagging off his native land since 1977.

But what Bob Geldof was saying about Britishness, at that Let's Stay Together rally in Trafalgar Square, came from what he himself called "an immigrant's gratitude" to the country to which he credits so much of his success.

The UK has been very good to Bob Geldof, who was recently said to be worth over €120m and who may believe that '80s Ireland in particular had nothing to offer him.

And as an Irishman living (mostly) in London myself, I can see where Bob is coming from.

Talk to the young Irish men and women who are here now - there are so, so many of them all over this great city and the Irish networks are still strong - and you don't hear the misty-eyed regard for home that you might have heard in the 80s.

You don't hear much, if any, anti-British sentiment. Mostly, they recognise the opportunities that London gives them and the energy, industry and cosmopolitan buzz in a city that is all about getting on and getting ahead.

Yes, London can be a very tough place. Rented accommodation costs on average 50pc more than in the rest of the UK.

But for many thousands of young, educated and hard-working Irish people, London and the UK is a place where talent meets opportunity. They may still think Scotland should take its chance to go it alone. But they are perfectly comfortable living in the land of our former oppressor and not really all that hung up on "800 years" and all that. Unless, of course, Ireland are playing out west in Twickenham.

They may not have a hell of a lot in common with Bob Geldof, but like him, they can appreciate what relocating to the UK has allowed them to do. And would probably think the concept of Britishness - as the idea of an open, tolerant and vibrant society - is at least worth defending.

Scotland will decide tomorrow. But many of the Irish voices you hear now in every corner of London have already made their minds up. Britain, for them at least, is working.

Irish Independent

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