Pat Shortt and Ruth Bradley star in a new comedy drama from the makers of much-loved TV show, Pure Mule.
By Esther McCarthy, Irish Examiner
IRELAND’S 1916 centenary commemorations get the big-screen treatment in The Flag, a new Irish movie starring Pat Shortt and Ruth Bradley.
Part comedy, part drama, and set around an outrageous heist, the film tells the story of a down-on-his-luck Irish emigrant, named Harry (Shortt), living in London.Upon hearing that a flag his father hung on the GPO during the 1916 Rising is now upside down on a wall in an English barracks, Harry sets about assembling a motley crew to steal it back.
The film is fictional, but has its genesis in a real-life testimony, says its writer, Eugene O’Brien. He and the director, Declan Recks, and the co-producer, Robert Walpole, “were in a coffee shop in January, 2015, chatting about stuff, and Rob showed us this letter, this testimony, from his grandfather,” said O’Brien.
“It was all first-person: ‘I was inside the GPO, and Comdt Connolly came to me with a wooden box. He opened it. There was a flag there. He said I was to put it up on the Prince’s Street side of the building.
“He went up with another guy, dodged the bullets, and put the flag up. It stood for the whole week. It was shot down, onto Sackville Street, and the British army took it. He had traced it to some military barracks in England, where they’d hung it upside down as a mark of disrespect.
“We don’t know if it’s true or not — the official thing is that the last flag was handed back in ’66, and it’s in Collins’ Barracks. Then, there’s the Irish republican one. Whether there was another flag, or other flags, who knows?”
After briefly considering a documentary, Walpole, Recks and O’Brien, who adapted his successful play, Eden, for the big screen, and wrote the cutting-edge RTÉ series, Pure Mule, decided the story would make a fine starting point for a comedy/drama.
“I got the image of someone in a bedsit in London, a builder, down-on-his-luck, thought of Pat immediately, and it just steamrolled from there, as these things do. Myself and Rob worked together on the script. It was mainly myself and Rob meeting and feeding the story. Then, I’d do treatments and get a good momentum out of it. It was always going to be comedy, a caper movie. It’s set about two months before this year’s centenary celebrations.”
The celebrations feature in the film’s final scenes, for which Recks and his cast filmed on the streets of Dublin.
O’Brien likes the input of others. “Screenplays are always collaborative. I think they have to be, for me, anyway, by their nature. I like to write with other people, and everyone throws their bit in and you take everything away and unpack it at home. Because Rob felt very close to the story and he’s got a very good nose for comedy, he was very helpful.”
Shortt shines as a builder who is lonely in London, but too long gone from home to return, in a story that will resonate. But the film features a strong supporting cast, including Moe Dunford, an idealistic young friend from Harry’s home town who gets on board for the heist.
Together, they assemble a gang to con their way into — and, crucially, out of — the English barracks. Driving the getaway car is Ruth Bradley, who displays a knack for comedy as the feisty Charlie, a north of England lass who admires the rebelliousness of the men.
“She comes along to help, once she hears they’re going to fight the system,” said the Dublin actress. “She’s very no-nonsense, very strong. She’s a feminist, also probably a bit of a tomboy. She’s got a lot of fights to fight against the autocracy.
“I do the getaways, haring off down the road and taking lots of really sharp corners, with poor Pat and Moe in the back. In real life, I often worry that I drive too fast, but it’s quite handy for this.”
ONE OF THE LADS
While she exploits her feminine wiles at one crucial stage in the film, Bradley was happy to be one of the lads.
“That’s what’s great about Charlie, she is just another character. There’s no big deal that she’s a woman — she’s the only one who can drive,” Bradley says.
For Bradley, the daughter of actress Charlotte, taking on the role also meant an opportunity to work at home. While much of the movie is set in the UK, almost all of it was filmed in Dublin, with places like McKee Barracks doubling as locations.
The actress has been UK-based since her teens. She moved there to pursue acting.
“I moved straight after the Leaving Cert. I literally finished and I went. I kind of felt that Ireland was so great, and I loved it so much, that if I stayed any longer I wouldn’t want to leave. I felt the longer I left it, the less likely it was that I’d want to do it. It seemed like a much bigger deal then. Now, people go over and back, but I didn’t know anybody and I’d never been there before properly, so it was a big deal.”
London has been kind to her, she says, and her career continues to flourish. She’s been getting strong buzz for her role in the well-received TV series, Humans. She recently filmed a new series of the London-set sci-fi series for Channel 4, and has also joined the cast of series three of The Fall.
“She’s really strong, an interesting character, strange, in lots of different ways, multilayered,” she said of her Humans character. “I think, in television, you have the luxury of playing it over eight or ten hours, as opposed to an hour and a half.”
She agrees that the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of television has afforded a wide variety of roles for women. “Now, the thing is to have more women in their 40s and 50s (on TV and film), to have all that. For a while there, I remember thinking: ‘It’s like women disappear after the age of 37 on-screen’. But now, there’s amazing stuff, people like Julianne Moore, or Gillian Anderson in The Fall. I think women get much more interesting the older they get.”
- The Flag is in cinemas tomorrow