Based on the stage play of the same name written by John B Keene.
(Produced by Gemini Productions at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in 1965.)
Review by Sir Peter James Dotcome.
I viewed the movie through the courtesy of YouTube, and the quality of the picture and sound were far below par. Jim Sheridan’s work stemmed from a fictional play by John B Keene and set in County Kerry, Ireland, 1930. The filming took place in the village of Leenaun, County Galway and the screenplay was that of Jim Sheridan.
Jim, it seems by comparison with the play, used a sizeable amount of poetic license in writing his screenplay. More about this later.
Ireland is a country where natives fought for the right to own land; they had their fill of being subjugated by landlords from other ethnic and cultural origins. I don’t think it is unfair to say that the natives of Ireland were angry and bitter. The great famine of 1845 exacerbated this situation.
The movie tells us a story about a fictional village in 1930s Ireland. Bull McCabe (Richard Harris,) the protagonist, is an Irish village farmer. Four primary characters, Bull’s son, Tadgh, Bird, Bull’s sidekick, Mick, publican, and auctioneer. Finally, the local Priest. A host of other characters supports these.
Bull is a farmer who rents a small field from a widow and has done so for five years. Over these years, his dedicated care of the field had yielded fine nutritious fodder for his heifers. Raising and selling these animals is his livelihood.
The Widow struggles to live on her pension and decides to auction off her field. Bull tells the local population that he has a right to have the lot as, in his curatorship, the value has increased. The Widow puts a reserve on the field and awaits the outcome. Bull sets about various underhanded means to stop the auction from being publicized. He does this with the aid of Mick, who is managing the auction event. Bull states that he is willing to pay £50, half of the reserve the Widow has set.
Enter a new character, Peter, an American, the antagonist, who has generational roots in the area. Peter wants the field to further his business interests and drives the bidding up, forcing Bull to exceed his £50 bid to £80. Mick halts the auction telling everyone they must return the following day.
Bull and Tadgh, his son, take advantage of the situation and decide to threaten Peter with a beating if he does not leave the village at once. Waylaying him in the dark, they threaten Peter, and then Bull sets Tadgh up to fight Peter. Without any further details, save it to say that in the course of the beating Bull accidentally kills Peter.
I’m sure you will want to know more, so watch the movie.
But there is more from me.
For what the movie lacks in quality, it’s explosive on emotion – the actual value.
Irrespective of your belief system, possible empathies for souls suffering at the hands of their landlords over the centuries; You will need some understanding of this situation.
The Priest had warned Bull not to go outside the law in his dealing with the property sale, but Bull retorted by releasing his deeply emotive reasons for wanting the field.
After the murder of Peter (what may have been decided by the court as a case of manslaughter), not one person in the community would assist the police investigative team. The Priest and Police Sergeant appealed to the community, but to no avail. The Priest finally gave a fire-and-damnation sermon to the community on Sunday, telling them that not only was the perpetrator guilty of suffering eternally in hell, but they too were liars and equally guilty. He followed by refusing all rights offered by the church and closing its doors.
While the police were searching in the sea for a mule, killed in anger by Tadgh and Bull, Peter’s body was discovered. At this point, Bull realized what he had done and lost his mind.
What emerged out of this carnage?
The Widow received the value of her property. Bird, Bull’s faithful sidekick, was the successful bidder at £101. Peter lost his life. His wife was widowed, and his child was subsequently fatherless. Bull took his life and the lives of his son and livestock. If you believe the Priest, the community is now under the sword of Damocles’.
How would you judge the morality in this story?
I would not point the finger at any one party (just my point of view here.) But let me share my point of view anyway.
Two businessmen lock horns over an issue. Both are passionate men wanting their way.
One is from some eight generations of persecution by landlords, mainly of foreign ethnicity. His philosophy says, ‘ownership of land is everything,’ and his philosophy is followed by powerful emotion, to the point where he places himself above the law.
The other was a successful and seemingly arrogant young man who wanted to appease his wife, an Irish native. She tried to return to Ireland at any cost. Possibly his trust in the law was his undoing. We all know the law is something wealthy lawyers debate in court, charging huge fees. The law does not offer anyone physical protection. There is the probability, although having Irish roots, he did not research its painful history sufficiently.
Lastly, I would like to mention that I read the book of the play text in conjunction with viewing the movie.
In his play, Keene’s text has quite a few differences compared to the movie. Out of interest, why don’t you read the play version and find out for yourself?
Principally, Keene ends his play with murder (no possibility of manslaughter) committed by a man who now has his land and is untouchable by the law. The community in silent support has packing tape over their lips. Another interesting point is that the antagonist in the play is a certain man named William, who hails from England. I am not certain if the English factor plays a part here, but it bears some thought at least.
What should we make of this find? Nothing really; one man was writing a play in protest and the other, what he hoped would be a box office hit. What do you think?
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