Dir: Tom Collins. Ire-UK. 91mins.
A melancholy drama of Irish displacement, Kings has 'based on a stage play' written all over it. Not only in a negative sense: this study of the unfulfilled hopes, dreams and promises of five friends who moved to London from the west of Ireland years before is a subtle male-bonding drama with some punchy dialogue, and strong performances from a mostly Gaelic-speaking cast headed by Colm Meaney.
But in the end, despite some grainy backstory inserts, Kings never quite shakes off its theatrical origins, especially in a long final section set in the backroom of a Kilburn pub, where it's not difficult to imagine the actors in the stage version pacing the boards and exiting stage left.
First seen in the Cannes market, the film premiered at the Taormina Film Festival, where it was politely received. While this looks to be a blueprint for most audiences, Kings may generate warmer reactions at home in Ireland, where immigration issues are still very much alive (though they now revolve more around import than export).
The Gaelic dialogue (which is frequently interlarded with English) may deter some audiences, but then this was never going to be a multiplex item. And the curiosity-value of a Gaelic film set in London could actually turn out to be a selling point abroad - although it's more likely to festivals than distributors who are interested.
The film focuses on six male friends who moved to London from the rural West of Ireland in the 1970s. Thirty years on one dies - possibly having taken his own life - and the other five meet up for the funeral and the wake. It's like the Gaelic Big Chill, except that very little happens in the present timeline outside of lots of talking and drinking (so much alcohol is consumed that just watching has to be bad for the liver).
But the characters are neatly sketched in, without forcing: three in particular stand out - smart, bitter, self-destructive Jap (a fine, gritty performance by actor-playwright Donal O'Kelly), his hangdog, submissive housemate and drinking partner Git (Conroy), and tough building contractor Joe (Meaney), the only one of the five Connemara lads to have struck it rich in England.
Jerky, Super-8-style footage in stark desaturated colour shows the six friends back then, contrasting with the grey present in which London looks as washed up as Donal and Git - unemployed wasters who live in bachelor squalor and begin drinking before breakfast.
There's a pathos in the funeral scenes, focused especially on the dead man's father, Micil, who flies in from Ireland for the day and acts as a reminder of a cultural rootedness, and moral strength, that these long-time immigrants have lost.
There are moments of humour too, as when Donal and Git (a morose, tragicomic Irish buddy act that reminds us of Estragon and Vladimir from Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot) steal a wreath from a cemetery to take to their friend's funeral.
But the stand-offs and revelations in the final section are not interesting enough to lift Kings beyond its static barroom setting, and the ironic repetition of the catchphrase 'all for one and one for all' soon becomes irritating. Robert Altman got away with a very similar set-up in Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, but he was Robert Altman - and there we had Cher to look at, rather than five dishevelled Irish topers.
Green Park Films
High Point Films
based on the play The KingsOfTheKilburn High Road by Jimmy Murphy