DIRECTOR: SAELA DAVIS & ANNA ROSE HOLMER
SCREENPLAY: SHANE CROWLEY
PRODUCER: FODHLA CRONIN O’REILLY
CAST: EMILY WATSON; PAUL MESCAL; AISLING FRANCIOSI; DECLAN CONLON AND TONI O’ROURKE
UK/IRELAND 100 MINS IN CINEMAS UK-WIDE 31/03/2023
Aisling Franciosi as Sarah Murphy (top left); Paul Mescal as Brian O'Hara & Emily Watson as Aileen O'Hara (top right) - photos courtesy of A24.
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
With five British Independent Film Awards already under its belt, God’s Creatures proffers a stellar cast with Paul Mescal (Normal People/The Lieutenant of Inishmore), and Emily Watson (Angela’s Ashes/ Little Women) stealing the screen in a pretty bleak, although poignant BBC funded drama. Mescal plays Brian, the AWOL son, who returns to his Irish fishing village after a stint in Australia. His mother Aileen (Emily Watson) is foreman at the local fish factory tasked with overseeing a team of women (the “lads”) gutting fish and sorting oysters.
Aileen’s extended family live under one roof, including an ailing grandad with no teeth and an unimpressed husband (Declan Conlon) whose suppressed aggression is barely skin deep. There is plenty of umbrage between kith and kin that’s for sure, and not much humour around.
It’s a tough life and a tight community. Life and death are packed into the everyday. Everyone drinks at the no-frills local, everyone cuddles whatever baby is to hand, everyone pays their respects at funerals (there’s a few). Work is hard and nasty. Chain smoking is a must.
The seemingly slow pace of the film, shot in dark tones, belies an epic family saga. And to set the scene full and proper, the wintry landscape (perishing seas and rugged mountains) is baren, albeit beautiful. This is the texture and tone of God’s Creatures inspired by producer Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly who grew up in a Kerry fishing village on Ireland’s tempestuous west coast. As she explains, “In this primal landscape that seemed to hold us all captive, a disagreement over oyster licenses can carry the stakes of a grand territorial conflict. Here, the mundane and the ordinary seem to stretch into the realm of myth.”
The crux of the story lies in Brian’s misdemeanour which, without giving away the very plot, forces his adoring mother to face some bitter truths. It doesn’t come easily, despite her daughter’s (Toni O'Rourke) efforts to alert her mother. Aileen had hoped Brian would marry her best friend’s daughter Sarah played with stoic fury by Aisling Franciosi (The Fall/Black Narcissus). Mescal plays his part with familiar, smiling charm much loved by Normal People fans with glimpses of his bared torso to please. At times, Mescal’s easy appeal is something of a default position and overrides the gravity of Brian’s transgression. But director duo Saela Davis & Anna Rose Holmer skilfully reign things in, leaving the viewer with much to consider, not least the myriad of tragedies, reminiscent of Oedipus in Greek mythology mixed with the biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Essentially, the directors wanted “to explore the gender politics of our world. A story about the inner conflict of a mother torn between her unconditional love for her son and her own sense of right and wrong.”
Neither does the film flinch from issues of violence against women and between men. As Emily Watson puts it “To me, the story is also getting at unspoken cycles of intergenerational violence and suppressed emotion. The granddad has been violent with his son and the father is the same way with the boy. But nobody talks about it. Nobody addresses any of it.”
God’s Creatures certainly tackles gender and familial relations head-on without sugar-coating, in a contemporary and very novel Irish context.
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