“The Banshees of Inisherin,” January 20, 2023 (2022), HBO with added feature, 9 Oscar nominations. Ireland 1922-1923 is locked in a civil war between Republican (IRA) factions who had, together, fought the British. Atrocities, house burnings, major battles, and murders by both sides plagued the land. Thousands of combatants and civilians died in the conflict that led to the creation of the Irish Free State.
The (fictional) sleepy, provincial isle of Inisherin seems far removed from this conflict, even as it sadly watched and heard night-time artillery and gun-fire exchanges in the dark. But in Martin McDonaghs visually stunning, brilliantly acted, yet somewhat opaque tragic-comic film, the struggle is replicated on the island itself (actually two different islands were used for the film), when life-long friends Colm (Brendan Gleason) and Padraic (Colin Farrell) fall out because Colm decides that Padraic is just dull and can’t stand his company any longer. The latter’s a simple farmer, living with and sharing a bedroom with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon). He’s got his cows and his beloved pet miniature donkey, Jenny, while living a quiet, predictable life. Colm, a talented fiddle teacher and composer (Gleason wrote and played his own composition), wants more. So does Siobhan, who can’t take the quiet desperation any longer. But Padraic won’t accept this split, and therein lies the rub.
All the island’s residents are concerned if not shocked. Many had long seen the differences between the two men. But the islanders want peace, except for an enigmatic crone, Mrs. McCormack (Sheila Flitton), who marks the horrific events that follow. As Colm notes, the banshees may not be there directly terrible events, but they may be watching and laughing as people (including many wonderfully played characters) destroy themselves and those around them. The island’s beauty and simplicity masks petty and profound abuses.
All the acting, directing and script are as beautiful as the setting, although be prepared for some serious shocks and tragedies. As on the mainland, tragic things follow from an inability to accept a separation.