Tuesday 21 November 2017

Queen of Ireland review: 'the referendum results scene turned me to mush'

On the throne: The Queen of Ireland tells the story of Rory O'Neill
On the throne: The Queen of Ireland tells the story of Rory O'Neill

Chris Wasser

A giant, cartoon woman. That’s how Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, describes his drag-queen alter ego. Lest any of us forget (and we never could), the woman simply known as Panti is also a “national f***ing treasure”, and with director Conor Horgan’s The Queen of Ireland, she is now the subject of a superlative documentary, too.


It was only a matter of time, and yet, as Horgan admits, timing played a crucial role in the filming of the official Panti doc. Consider this: cameras began rolling back in 2010, long before ‘Pantigate’, long before the Abbey Theatre speech and long before Ireland made history as the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Yet, it’s the last two years — with a particular emphasis on the spring/summer of 2015 — that form the greatest part of The Queen of Ireland. Not much wiggle room for editing, eh? What we have here, then, is two documentaries in one; the first, the story of how O’Neill, “a square peg in a Ballinrobe-shaped hole”, escaped his small-town, rural upbringing to study graphic design, turn nightclubbing into an art form and, of course, to create the drag queen/pub landlady we all know and love.

The second casts a wider net on four decades of gay rights activism, culminating in the triumphant Yes campaign in which Panti (an “accidental activist”) became more than just a symbol for LGBT rights in Ireland.

In fact, the aforementioned ‘Pantigate’ controversy and subsequent Noble Call made Panti an internationally-recognised figurehead for equality.

Both story strands have their serious streaks; both are positively brimming with humour (the giant, cartoon woman is an absolute hoot), warmth (O’Neill, sans make-up, is quite the storyteller) delicacy and compassion. Both are brilliant.

We all know how it ends, but it’s a testament to Horgan’s seamless direction, and the entire O’Neill family’s wonderful input, that The Queen of Ireland still manages to tug at our heartstrings (the referendum results scene turned me to mush).

A lovely film.


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