[BLOG] Ireland’s Other Voices: Portrayals of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Lives on Irish Screens

To mark Ireland’s historic Marriage Referendum on Friday, May 22nd, this month’s blog from the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Tiernan MacBride library examines fictional and factual depictions of gay, lesbian and bisexual lives in Ireland’s film and television productions. We present just a snapshot of productions screened over the last 30 years but you can discover more about Irish cinema’s representations of LGBT issues from last month’s excellent IFI Spotlight presentation  by Brian Finnegan.

Pigs (1984)

Pigs examines the interconnecting relationships between bisexual Dubliner Jimmy, who has separated from his wife, and his fellow squatters in a Georgian house on Henrietta Street. Jimmy Brennan, who plays Jimmy in the film, based the screenplay on his own experiences in 1970s London. [1] The various characters living at the edges of society in the film desperately seek stability and a sense of community from one another but images of the decaying city amplify the growing tensions between them. Jimmy’s alienation is successfully captured as he fails to find companionship or understanding in Dublin’s bars or on its bleak streets. The grim reality of 1980s Ireland and the country’s poor treatment of its marginalised citizens are powerfully depicted in the feature and critic Liam O’Leary declared it “the best Irish film I have ever watched.” [2]

Pigs
Jimmy (Jimmy Brennan) is questioned by detectives (Patrick Laffin and
Johnny Murphy) in Pigs. Copyright Samson Films 1984.

 

Fair City (1989-2015)

The popular Irish soap opera Fair City has regularly featured gay, bisexual and lesbian characters in central plots and the storyline following Eoghan Healy and Liam Casey’s relationship in the 1990s was the first gay relationship to be portrayed in an Irish drama series. [3] Through this plotline, Fair City has been credited with screening the first kiss between two male characters on Irish television in 1996. In reality, this potentially historical television moment was interrupted before the two characters made contact, something which caused a public outcry, generating “a lot of fuss and angry mail.” [4] It was the Irish language soap Ros na Rún which would broadcast the first ever gay kiss on Irish screens in October 1996. [5]

Fair City
Eoghan (Alan Smyth) and Liam (Peter Casey) in Fair City.
Copyright RTÉ 1996.

 

The Last Bus Home (1997)

The Last Bus Home centres on Jessop, Reena and Petie, members of punk band The Dead Patriots in 1980s Dublin. The film explores themes of sexual confusion and self-discovery as gay drummer Petie struggles with and eventually embraces his homosexuality. His subsequent rejection by his parents and by homophobic band member Jessop is realistically and harrowingly portrayed. Jealousy, misunderstanding and prejudice ultimately tear the band apart and result in the tragic death of Petie, who flees blindly from a gig into late-night traffic when he is outed on stage by Jessop. Opening on the day in 1979 when the Pope visits Dublin and closing 13 years later on the day when homosexuality is decriminalised, the film sharply examines societal attitudes towards gay men in Ireland. 

The last bus home
Petie’s (John Cronin) isolation is captured as Jessop (Brian F. O’Byrne)
and Reena (Annie Ryan) kiss in The Last Bus Home. Copyright Bandit Films 1997.

 

Olive (2003)

This beautifully shot Irish language short follows Deirdre, a shy studious schoolgirl, as she is introduced to an illicit world of smoking, shoplifting and underage drinking by her rebellious classmate Olive. The film explores Deirdre’s discovery of her sexuality when she kisses Olive in a Dublin nightclub. Deirdre’s romantic dreams are soon shattered when she encounters Olive on the street with her boyfriend and is rebuffed by her. Director and writer Neasa Hardiman cleverly weaves themes of “sexual and linguistic betrayal” [6] together when Olive greets Deirdre breezily in English, though their relationship has been conducted only through Irish. The film ends positively as Deirdre shrugs off Olive’s faithlessness and sets off to explore a world of new possibilities.

Olive
Deirdre (Isabel Claffey) is undaunted by Olive’s (Lisa Lambe) betrayal
in Olive. Copyright Language Communications Ltd 2003.

 

Where I Am (2012)

Where I am tells the story of gay American writer Robert Drake who suffered a violent homophobic attack in Sligo in 1999. The documentary traces his emotional and physical journey since the assault and follows him as he travels back to Ireland from Philadelphia, meeting Colm Tóibín, Dermot Healy and those who cared for him after the assault. Despite now being confined to a wheelchair, Drake holds no bitterness towards the attackers and displays a remarkable capacity for “resilience, humour and optimism” [7] that earned the film a standing ovation when it was screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2013. [8] This is a powerful story of forgiveness, acceptance and redemption that will leave you inspired by Robert Drake’s bravery and determination.  

Where I am
Robert Drake and Colm Tóibín visit Oscar Wilde’s statue in St Stephen’s
Green in Where I Am. Copyright Subotica 2012.

 

By Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

The information in this blog is drawn from the IFI Irish Film Archive’s clippings, image, document and book collections.  These collections contain thousands of files, images and articles relating to all aspects of Irish and Irish-interest film and television production. They are available to view in the Tiernan MacBride library within library opening hours, or by appointment with the IFI librarian. Pigs, The Last Bus Home and Where I Am form part of the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Film Collections and they are available to view by appointment. Please direct all queries regarding the viewing of films to the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Moving Image Access Officer

REFERENCES

[1] Reddy, T. (1984, Oct 2). Pigs – a beautiful film. The Irish Press, p. 7.

[2] Cowie, P. (Ed). (1985) International film guide 1986. New York, NY: Baseline Books.

[3] Flynn, C. (1996, April 20). Heavy on the Soap. The Irish Independent, p. 31.

[4] Cadden, S. (1998, November 8). Where the guys are so pretty. The Sunday Independent, p. 64.

[5] Kilroy, I. (2000, December 2). The killer soap writers. The Irish Times Magazine, p. 52.

[6] McCarthy, G. (2004, July 25). Gay culture has gone from the margins to the mainstream in Ireland, with surprising results. The Sunday Times, Culture, p. 18.

[7] Moran, J. (2013, February 17). JDIFF 2013: Where I Am. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from http://filmireland.net/2013/02/17/jdiff-2013-where-i-am/

[8] Moran, J. (2013, February 17). JDIFF 2013: Where I Am. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from http://filmireland.net/2013/02/17/jdiff-2013-where-i-am/

 

 


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