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The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated in a genteel Dublin household in John Huston’s pitch-perfect adaptation of James Joyce’s short story The Dead. As the New Year dawns in 1904, the elderly Misses Morkan and their niece Mary Jane (Ingrid Craigie) prepare for their annual dinner and musical soirée. Among their guests, a colourful cast of friends and family, are Mary Jane’s musical students; Mr Brown, a Protestant; Molly Ivors, an Irish nationalist; the bibulous Freddy Malins (Dónal Donnelly) and his long-suffering mother and the mellifluous tenor Bartell D’Arcy (Frank Patterson). The mood of the evening is anguished as Gretta (Anjelica Huston) remembers a long-lost love, much to the incomprehension of her husband Gabriel (Donal McCann) until he has his own sombre epiphany.
John Huston’s subtle direction, a wholly distinguished ensemble of Irish actors, and Angelica Huston and Donal McCann’s delicately wrought performances perfectly capture the social atmosphere and emotional nuance of Joyce’s original text. For Huston, the film served as an elegant and melancholic farewell to Ireland and to life itself.