By David Hennessy
John Michael McDonagh, the IFTA-winning writer and director of the films The Guard and Calvary, has caused controversy by attacking the standards of the Irish film industry and saying he would rather his film Calvary would not be seen as Irish.
McDonagh, who was born and raised in Camberwell of Irish heritage, said in a recent interview: “I’m not a fan of Irish movies, I don’t find them to be that technically accomplished and I don’t find them that intelligent.
“So I’m trying to get away from the description of the movie as an Irish film in a way. It’s not an Irish film. It’s just set in Ireland with lots of Irish characters.”
John Michael’s first film, The Guard, took over €4 million in Ireland and became the most successful ever Irish independent film on home territory. Calvary received €975,000 in public funding from the Irish Film Board. Both have starred Brendan Gleeson.
The writer/director continued: “You see the problem is they (audiences) know that lots of Irish films aren’t very good and they’re actually hesitant about going to see the movie themselves.
“So when you’re making a film there, you’re trying to convince the Irish audience ‘no, it’s not like all those terrible Irish movies you’ve seen before.”
The comments have not been welcomed.
John Michael told The Irish World that he wouldn’t want his film seen as Irish when we spoke to him about the film on its release in April. However, he meant no offence to the Irish industry, merely that it was a more universal theme, saying: “It’s set in Ireland but to me the film could take place in a small town in Spain or it could take place in a small town in Italy or a small town in Latin America, anywhere that there is religion that has taken a battering and anywhere that is in the middle of a recession which is virtually everywhere now.
“Obviously because of my London-Irish background, I’ve written a story that is set in Ireland but to me it’s a universal story, I’m not specifically examining Irish society, to me it should be universal, it should be as if this film could be remade in any of those countries.”
John Michael is the brother of playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh whose work includes the plays The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Pillowman and the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.
Both Martin and John Michael have always been seen as Irish writers despite their English birth as their subjects are often Irish. Prior to directing his two movies, John Michael wrote Ned Kelly which was the tale of the Irish-Australian outlaw.
The Guard and Calvary used largely Irish crew while Brendan Gleeson was joined by Irish actors like Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Dominique McElligott, Pat Shortt, Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Killian Scott and more.