Friday 22 March 2019

The boomtime banker and Mayo footballer taken to the limit - Mayo brothers' film finally set to premiere after series of family crises

Brothers' acclaimed film finally set to premiere after they endure a series of family crises, writes Donal Lynch

Brothers: Anthony and Alan Mulligan. Photo: Tony Gavin
Brothers: Anthony and Alan Mulligan. Photo: Tony Gavin
PEAK PERFORMANCE: Actress Sarah Carroll who stars in ‘The Limit Of’
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

'When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions," Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet. For Alan and Anthony Mulligan, a pair of filmmaking brothers from Charlestown, Co Mayo, the last few years have seen an incredible series of unfortunate events, which derailed their lives.

During the production of their critically acclaimed debut feature The Limit Of, Anthony, a highly talented Gaelic footballer and dead cert for the Mayo county team, was struck down with a brain tumour, effectively ending his playing career. As he dealt with the fallout from that, the Mulligans' father, Anthony senior, developed a brain cancer which would eventually claim his life.

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In the midst of all of this Anthony junior married and had twin boys, who were born 11 weeks prematurely.

The culmination of these tumultuous life events meant their promising film-making career had to be put on hold.

Only now, two years after its completion, is The Limit Of about to get its national release - it will premiere in the Savoy on April 5 and then move to cinemas across the country.

"It's a bit of a miracle we've got this far", Alan, the elder by four years, says. "At times it was all a bit overwhelming, but when there is so much crisis in your life you don't really have time to think. You're just concerned with getting from one day into the next."

The film draws heavily on Alan's former career as a boomtime banker. During the Celtic Tiger years, he gave out millions in credit to borrowers and experienced serious qualms at the reckless double standards he saw in the banking industry.

The Limit Of has clear biographical overtones; the plot deals with a young financier who loses his soul during the boom. It's a psychological thriller with a deliberate pace and captures the paranoia and madness of the period. Critics have already praised the performances of the movie's stars, Sarah Carroll and Laurence O'Fuarain.

Part of what had driven Alan into banking in the first place was the desire for self-betterment and social mobility. Even with the success it brought he could feel the work leeching away his passion for life - for a time he suffered from depression - and he decided to get out.

He dreaded telling his father, a butcher, he had given up a big career in Dublin to enter the precarious world of filmmaking, but, in the end, Anthony senior was supportive and the two brothers began working together.

By that point Anthony was poised to become part of the Mayo county team which seemed to take up permanent residency in the final of the All-Ireland.

"I was called in and I was told I had the jersey, that it was mine to keep - but then I ran into a few problems," he recalls. "I was having dizzy spells and wobbling. I was up in Dublin and I fell into a clothes rack in a shop.

"Another time I had what turned out to be a seizure in a hotel in Dublin. I went to a specialist in Sligo and he told me that I had a tumour. He said it could be potentially life-threatening. I was in shock. Alan was the first person I rang. I was on the phone for about a minute and then I started bawling."

The brothers had lost their mother, Bernadette, when they were both in their early 20s - and this, Alan reckons, made him feel "very protective" of his younger brother.

He accompanied Anthony to the endless appointments with neurologists. Anthony had two different brain surgeries to remove the golf ball-sized tumour.

"We had to cancel filming and two weeks before we were due to begin filming again, the doctors brought us in to say that the tumour was definitely still there," Alan recalls.

"They named a date for the surgery and Anthony's first response was 'can we put it back two weeks, because we are filming that day', and it was so sad in a way, but in another way I thought 'wow, he is dedicated'."

Anthony picks up the tale. "I went from training six days a week to having to be brought from the bathroom to the bedroom by Alan," he recalls. "There were times when I was rushed back to hospital. After the second surgery I lost movement on the left side and some of my speech but those things were temporary, thankfully. A bad day would involve me falling on the floor and being there for a few hours."

The GAA community in Mayo rallied around him - Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan were among those who inquired after his health - but, after a seizure during a comeback match, it was clear his career on the pitch was over.

"I felt bad because the team had to go back out and play the second half," Anthony recalls, laughing at the memory. The brothers share a kind of gallows humour about the ordeal they have been through.

Anthony had only been with his girlfriend, Edel, a few months when he got the diagnosis of the brain tumour.

"It was one of those things where you're told you're going to be going through a tough time and you don't want others to have to suffer with you. I said it to her, kind of giving her the out if she needed it - we'd only seen each other about 10 times. She said she'd stick with me through it all, which was incredible.

"There is a point in the wedding video where you can see I'm absolutely out of it. The priest saw I was bad at one point. But we got through it."

Alan would sleep on the floor beside his brother, ready to tend to him when the pounding headaches and vomiting came on again.

"It felt like someone was inside my head trying to kick their way out with a steel boot."

Last year Anthony had twin boys, James and Anthony, with Edel, and the children, born 11 weeks prematurely, were in incubators in Holles Street for weeks after they were born and then another special unit in Castlebar.

"Dad came in to see the lads," Anthony recalls. "And James grabbed his finger from the incubator and a big smile just crossed Dad's face. "The nurse asked him did he want to see the other baby and he said, yep, there's three generations of Anthonys here now."

There was only a three-week window with the babies home before more tragedy struck. The brothers' father, Anthony senior, was diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away in January of this year. "The grief for both of us is terrible, of course it is," Anthony recalls. "But we were lucky to have the years we had with him."

Despite Anthony's ongoing recovery, the brothers are still working on developing concepts for the screen. They've written a series which they describe as "GAA meets Peaky Blinders" and they've sold rights for a TV game show to an LA-based production company.

The promotional trail for The Limit Of has also brought them all over the world; there have been several public screenings in the US.

"We've been through a lot but we're looking forward to the future now," Alan says. "We've had a great reaction from people who've seen the film so far and we're so excited for this cinema release. We had the news of the release before Dad passed and we got to share that with him. We know he'd be proud of us."

The Limit Of is being released on April 5. Screenings in Cork, Galway, Mayo and Dublin (at the Savoy and UCI Santry) are the initial locations for first weekend. Facebook is #TheLimitOf

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