David Hennessy talks to Terry McMahon, writer and director of the film Patrick’s Day, a follow-up to Charlie Casanova, it shows a modern Ireland and one that is not pretty
In his latest film, Patrick’s Day, Irish film-maker Terry McMahon explores what happens when a young man with schizophrenia falls in love with a suicidal air hostess and how the man’s mother intervenes, even to the point of lying to Patrick, telling him his love Karen never existed.
Terry tells The Irish World: “There are a lot of good people who do a lot of bad things that they believe are right and sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we subscribe to a given morality or we subscribe to a given doctrine that we don’t realise is doing untold damage either to us or to those around us until long after the fact. I wanted to explore that slavish adherence to a doctrine that was causing damage which is what austerity is doing in our country on a political level.”
Asked where the idea for the story came from, it was Terry’s personal experiences: “It was a combination of two things. I used to be homeless when I was a teenager for about a year and a half and I am afraid of nothing except, suddenly I discovered, a thing called loneliness and it was like a cancer that scared the hell out of me. The second thing was later in life I worked as a trainee carer in psychiatric institutions and I saw how the residents were treated, both well and not so well, and I wanted to combine those in a story about loneliness but also having the courage to fight back despite limitations.”
Terry saw how patients treated in psychiatric hospitals: Any expressions of sexuality were treated as aberrations of their disease, not human needs. In reference to the shocking abuse by carers that is depicted in the film, Terry says, “Sadly there are infinitely more shocking things that we could have written about but I chose not to because I didn’t want it to be one of those kinds of films.”
In the film Patrick’s mother, played by Kerry Fox of Shallow Grave and An Angel at my Table, will go to any lengths to put an end to Patrick’s affair with Karen: “We lie to our children from a very early age, we lie to them to protect them, from fairies to Santa Claus to God, we create these worlds to give a child a moral code we hope will benefit them as they grow up but imagine your child had a mental illness that you thought love could do untold damage in relation to. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do to protect the child so she’s not malicious, she’s not deliberately cruel, she does what she thinks is necessary to protect him.
“I think anybody who in a situation of emotional turmoil when pushed by people who are trying to control their emotional capacity have the capacity to be extreme in any shape or form, be it violent or aggression or a complete breakdown.
“Also when you have something as extreme as schizophrenia which is so open to misdiagnosis and so open to interpretation of the individual, it’s hard to fathom for us so called normal people what it must be feel like to be in a world where everybody tells you who you are, how you’re going to behave, what you can and can’t do and how your future is going to be mapped out forever.
“There are people who believe schizophrenia is in fact a gift rather than a curse, a gift rather than an illness and they claim that these voices are in fact a more advanced form of communication. I’m not saying they’re right or wrong, I’m not saying anybody is right or wrong but I do want to explore an alternative view that might allow us to engage in a more humanistic way rather than the conveyer belt of pharmaceuticals or repressive ideas.”
Patrick’s Day picked up Best Film Script and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Moe Dunford at the most recent IFTA awards. Moe has also been lauded with a Shooting Star Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
More satisfying for Terry and those involved, it has struck a chord with people who can relate to the story and characters: “We’ve had extraordinary reactions to the film from both sides of the diagnostic fence but it’s already going to be contentious, the moment you explore a film like this on any level, these narratives in place are going to cause extreme reactions but we’ve been incredibly lucky in that the overwhelming response across the board has been positive. Usually a quiet a voice comes out of the darkness in the theatre and somebody talks about the most private and most poignant story that they’ve never revealed in public before and we’ve had hundreds of letters and emails, literally hundreds of messages from people saying that for the first time they feel that their story’s been articulated in a cinema.
“It’s humbling. Without sounding trite, it’s humbling.”
The film rests squarely on Moe Dunford and his performance in the lead role. Terry reveals the role was made for him but others took some convincing: “He’s a remarkably gifted actor. He’s one of those once in a generation talents which you hope you’ll find. The producers and the financiers understandably wanted a more named actor and a couple of named actors wanted to play the role but I felt I couldn’t get them to that broken man/child place that I needed the character to be.
“Moe came in off the street and auditioned and I thought we had something special in him and then we had to fight to get people to understand it made more sense to cast an unknown than to cast a known actor if this unknown was that good.
“Then one of the financiers wondered if he was still right for the role and wondered could he be soft so I brought Moe home, got him drunk and put him on camera playing with our dog. I got him to sit with the dog, he loved the dog and the dog was licking his face and I filmed it and I sent it in and I cast him so essentially it was a dog that cast him in the end.
“He’s aided and abetted by some extraordinary talent. Kerry Fox is one of the great talents in the world, her history in cinema is incredible. I saw An Angel at my Table over 25 years ago. It blew my mind and the fact that someone of Kerry Fox’s stature or someone of Philip Jackson’s stature are willing to give everything they have for this film is extraordinary and Kerry Fox, Philip Jackson and Moe Dunford will be at the screening and the Q and A afterwards. I think it’s a really great opportunity for an audience to engage directly with remarkable actors.
“I’d ask your readers to get up off the couch and come to the cinema and be part of a collective experience because emotion is contagious and this film operates in the dark in a very very interesting way.”
Terry, who lived in England on and off for years, adds: “The tricycle is a sublime theatre and Kilburn of all areas in relation to the Irish connection, I can’t think of a better place for a London premiere.”
Speaking o talented leading men, also included in the credits is Emmett J Scanlan, the star of Terry’s debut feature, Charlie Casanova, who went on to play Hollyoaks bad boy Brendan Brady before featuring in The Fall.
Terry explains why he doesn’t actually feature in the film: “Yeah, Emmett’s such a scene stealer. Myself and Scan go back a long way, we’re very very close friends and I wanted him to be in a small role and he wanted to so he flew over for one day. He had an absolute blast, we filmed some stuff and he stole all the scenes he was in to such a degree, he was unbalancing it so we had to cut him out so he’ll be on the DVD extras.
“As a camp hotel manager, Scan managed to upstage the whole damn movie. He’s great. Again, just like Moe Dunford, he’s one of those remarkable gifted talents.”
Charlie Casanova divided opinion. Emmett J Scanlan’s portrayal of an educated but prejudiced psychopath provoked standing ovations, walk-outs and even fist fights when it played at international festivals, winning several awards.
Terry continues: “It’s a fallacy, a total fallacy suggesting the recession’s over. It’s a lie that our leaders tell on the world stage, it’s repugnant to watch it in action. Particularly with what’s happening in Greece at the moment. To see our leaders on their knees in front of Europe is utterly disgusting and something in years to come we’re going to look back on with great shame.
“As recently as this morning, I was walking down the street and every second hundred metres, there’s either somebody homeless, somebody on drugs or there’s somebody out of their mind on drink with nowhere to go and nothing to do. There’s a whole generation and a whole underclass completely forgotten on every level so it’s a lie on the world stage about the recession being over, we see the reality on the street.”
For the full interview, see the July 11 Irish World.
Irish Film Weekend takes place July 18 and 19 at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Patrick’s Day screens at 8pm on Saturday July 18 and will be followed by a Q and A featuring Terry and cast members. One Million Dubliners screens at 6pm on Sunday July 19 followed by a Q and A. For more information, go to http://irishfilmfestivallondon.com/.
The Irish World has a pair of tickets to give away to both the premiere of Patrick’s Day and One Million Dubliners at the Tricycle Theatre on July 18 and 19 respectively. Patrick’s Day will be followed by a Q and A with director Terry McMahon and stars Moe Dunford, Kerry Fox and Philip Jackson.
One Million Dubliners will be followed with a Q and A with director Aoife Kelleher and producer Rachel Lysaght.
Both films won awards at this year’s IFTAs.
For your chance to win, answer the question below:
Q. What was the name of Terry McMahon’s debut feature film?
Send your name, address, phone number and email to Patrick’s Day comp, The Irish World, 934 North Circular Road, London NW2 7JR.
Standard terms and conditions apply. Closing date, Wednesday July 15.