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Rat

Steve Barron

A blackly comic morality tale with an outrageous premise and a lively bunch of characters, Rat comes as something of a surprise from veteran writer Wesley Burrowes, who is best known as the creator of such TV series as The Riordans and Glenroe. Freed from the conventions and restraints of mainstream television soap opera, Burrowes pushes his material to farcical extremes, with mostly satisfying and often hilarious results.

Returning to his Dublin home one night after a few drinks, bread delivery man Hubert Flynn (Pete Postlethwaite) begins to feel under the weather. He gets short shrift form his wife Conchita (Imelda Staunton), who gives him a piece of her mind before retiring to bed. The next morning, Hubert has somehow metamorphosed into a rat. At first, the family members take a pragmatic attitude towards Hubert’s radical transformation, with Conchita even serving him a traditional breakfast. But the darker implications of this inexplicable occurrence begin to emerge when journalist Phelim Spratt (David Wilmot) worms his way into the household with proposals for a book, a film and ‘a book of the filum.’

The shifty journalist’s satanic plan opens up a Pandora’s box that creates confusion and division within the family. Daughter Marietta (Kerry Condon) remains true to her Da, although she’s reluctant to introduce him to boyfriend Rudolph (comedian Ed Byrne). The piously religious son (Andrew Lovern) invokes Church doctrine to justify a radical solution: ‘I think we should kill him’, he says when an exasperated Conchita asks what a ‘good Catholic family’ should do. The well-read Uncle Matt (Frank Kelly), who proves to be an expert on all things rodent, has a less extreme suggestion: Hubert should be sent to a maggot farm.

Burrowes’ screenplay is in the tradition of the farce, a form that allows for exaggeration and extremes as a matter of course. More than mere knockabout humour, good farce always has a point, and Rat asks some pertinent questions about how we might respond to the freakish and the unexpected. Director Steve Barron and his cast attack the script with great verve and succeed in capturing the right balance between the bizarre and the mundane. Key to the success of the whole enterprise is Imelda Staunton’s outstanding turn as Conchita, the no-nonsense housewife who is unfazed by the most outlandish occurrences.

U.S.A./Ireland, 2000.
Colour.
Dolby digital stereo.
87 mins.

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