Before identifying what this film is, it helps to identify what it isn’t. The Banshees of Inisherin is not a lecture on male friendship. Neither is it an allegory of the Irish Civil War. Many accounts of the film treat it as one or the other.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a story of friendship and community, with each of those words taking one of the darker of its meanings. The friendship is between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), and its explicit termination by Colm. The community is the (fictional) island of Inisherin, off the west coast of Ireland, during the Irish Civil War.
The trailer doesn’t do the film justice, but here it is:
Banshees is a play turned into a movie. Martin McDonagh made his name as a playwright, wrote the first two plays in a trilogy, and had a title for the third: The Banshees of Inisherin. He then worked in film, writing and directing the wonderful In Bruges, in which Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are perfect together. They are just as good together in Banshees, but Banshees is not a sequel: it’s a reunion of McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson to tell a different story.
So why make Banshees for the screen rather than for the stage? I can think of three reasons. First, the film shows us the island, with its harsh natural beauty divided by stone walls. Second, it allows animals to be part of the ensemble cast. Banshees is an ensemble piece (whatever Oscar categories might say), with captivating performances from Farrell, Gleeson, several other humans, and several animals, including a donkey and a dog. Third, there’s more money to be made from screen than from stage; this is less convincing to me than either of the first two.
If I watch Banshees as a play, with an interval, I go into the break convinced that it is the best thing I’ve ever seen. In particular, the dialogue is great, and unbelievably well acted. The first half ends with Pádraic and his sister leaving the pub after a dramatic confrontation with Colm.
The second half didn’t work as well for me. Many movies (I don’t see as many plays as I used to) have second-half action because the movie (or play) is meant to get more exciting., rather than because the action grows naturally out of the early scenes. Banshees falls into this trap: I can’t explain without spoilers.
That said, Banshees is a very good movie, and play for the big screen. I recommend it highly. My preference for the first half shouldn’t overshadow my admiration for the film: the dialogue, the acting, the setting,…
If you allow yourself to watch it as a story, rather than as a lesson on masculinity or on Irishness, I think you’ll enjoy it too. But over to you, if you’ve seen it: what did you think?