KINGS: Colm Meaney and the script’s Irish Gaelic hook save this film from blarney.
In Kings, which is getting six screenings at the MFA (January 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19), it’s 1977, and six spry Irish lads are sailing toward London, buoyed by grand expectations. Thirty soused, pub-crawling years later, most are underemployed or unemployed, and one of them, Jackie, has just fallen in front of a train in the tube. Now it’s the day of his wake and funeral, and the surviving five are meeting for an uncomfortably hard day and night of imbibing, feuding, and soul baring. What happened to their dreams, their hopes, their idealism? Was Jackie’s tumble an accident, or did he commit suicide? And what about Joe (Colm Meaney), the most financially successful of the bunch? Hasn’t he scorned them all by hiring only sober, non-Irish immigrants for his building projects? “No Paddy Need Apply.”
Kings is based on a play by Irish dramatist Jimmy Murphy that was a considerable London stage success. But it’s too familiar stuff. Who among us hasn’t spent an evening in the moviehouse or the theater with some version of these self-loathing losers turning on one another, accusations and recriminations? Eugene O’Neill, Boys in the Band, Cassavetes movies, etc. Kings still kind of works, partly because of the extraordinary ensemble of Irish actors led by the always reliable Meaney, but also because of the play’s winning hook. The Irish guys’ code of honor is to speak Gaelic when gathered together in London, their last hurrah against being swept into British culture, and into more-recent multiculturalism. They’ve spent more than half their lives in Britain, but you’re not going to know it by their boys-from-Connemara Irish chat.
A film mostly in Irish! Let’s raise a glass to that! At home, the movie has gotten rave, semi-patriotic reviews, both in Dublin and in Belfast. It’s Ireland’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Bookstores do it, video stores do it, but, to my knowledge, only one theater in America has been so adventurous: for the third year running, our venerable Brattle Theatre is devoting a week to Staff Picks. “The selections this year are uniformly terrific,” Ned Hinkle, the Brattle’s creative director, brags over the phone. “I gave an open call for submissions, and I got selections from 15 people. I combed through the lists and then pushed for films we don’t usually play.” Have there been surprise hits in former years? “As always with the Brattle,” Hinkle says, “I’m both surprised and confounded by what does well. Brandon Constant, one of our office staff, chose two earlier winners, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Airplane (1980).
Saturday of this week at the Brattle is being given over to the jolly Pythonathon, a four-Monty day. But before that, on Friday, there’s Black Narcissus (1947), a tribute to Deborah Kerr, who died this year. Kerr, with the beatific face, plays a Sister Superior who leads her flock high into the Himalayas with a plan to bring hospitals and education to the locals. The plan goes awry in this swoony, delirious melodrama directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A Martin Scorsese favorite, both skeptical and spiritual, Black Narcissus could be called “Nuns in Heat,” as sexual desire ripens beneath the habits and do-gooders are foiled in their efforts to carry out God’s work.