Director – Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney – 2022 – Ireland – Cert. – 100m
The health of an amateur player of Irish football suffers after he gets badly beaten up one night, forcing him to withdraw from playing – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 5th
Football. Violence. This is a film that soft-soaps neither, yet it has no interest whatever in any justice / revenge plot resolution, opting instead for a very different approach.
It’s actually quite a gentle, downplayed affair focusing on the after effects of violence on a person’s life. It’s a rare foray into the landscape of masculine sensibilities, in a far more thoughtful and considered way than is usual in the cinema. For a start, it’s framed by farming, with protagonist Cian (Éanna Hardwicke) working on his dad’s farm caring for livestock, mucking out cowsheds, driving in fence posts and so forth, a slow, seasonal pace of life. And then his involvement in football (in this case, Irish football, which isn’t something this reviewer has seen much of on the screen, or, indeed, anywhere) is presented as a driving passion in marked contrast to the farming; you get the impression of a full, worthwhile existence, punctuated by nights out drinking with fellow players in the local town’s pubs and clubs.
It’s on one of these nights out at the pub that Cian’s life changes, although neither he nor anyone else is aware of the fact at first. He’s in a pub, chatting to a girl, and suddenly he’s arguing heatedly with another man over her. When he goes outside, the man and his friends are waiting for him and he gets beaten up. It happens. What he doesn’t realise is that he’s suffered severe medical trauma.
He carries on as normal and spots Grace (Danielle Galligan), a girl he fancies from ages back. She trained in England and now works as a nurse in London (she has a boyfriend there, so any relationship Cian might have in mind isn’t going to happen). When the subject of his being attacked comes up, she pushes him to get a check up at the local hospital. There are visits. There are tests. The results are not good, but Cian sits on them, trying to keep working when he’s been told he needs rest, playing football when he’s been told to take time off for a while. Although he hides it, the issue with his health becomes increasingly obvious to those around him.
The film breaks the mould by dealing with such issues both in a compelling way and at some considerable length. The script and Galligan’s performance really gets into the sense of two people attracted to one another where she is already committed to someone else and and has to keep the possibility of getting involved firmly in check – which makes a welcome change from the usual movie clichés – while at the same time being genuinely concerned as a friend for potential health issues he’s not confronting.
That relationship material is very much a side issue to the main event here, which is the damaged Cian and his determination to carry on as normal whatever condition he’s in and however dangerous it might be for him to do so. His reticence and the resultant effects on him will resonate with most men, and the perfectly cast Hardwicke delivers a compelling, nuanced performance as he explores the psyche of someone in his seemingly impossible situation.
Working with young actors and a fairly meagre budget, this is exemplary filmmaking in terms of what it achieves with its sparse resources, making striking use of what little it has to work with. You come away with a feeling of the central character’s life, his hopes and dreams (such as they are) and his complex readjustment process when those things which he never imagined he could live without are suddenly taken away from him following a single incident in time.
In short, an unexpected gem.
Lakelands is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on Friday, May 5th.
For a more religious (for which think Ecclesiastes) take on the film, see my review in Reform magazine.