Dir: John Irvin. Ireland/UK/Germany. 2003. 90 mins

Warm in spirit but slight in terms of substance, The Boys From County Clare is a lightweight period charmer. Attractively photographed and ably performed, it is a nice little inoffensive film that lacks the bite or grit to make much headway in theatrical terms. Most likely to appeal to an older demographic, it could attract some modest box-office returns from its home territory of Ireland but will struggle elsewhere. Last year's Evelyn offered a similar combination of nostalgia and sentiment and failed to make much impression despite the star presence of Pierce Brosnan. There's little reason to assume The Boys From County Clare will fare any better.

Prolific British veteran John Irvin brings his customary professionalism to bear on the story of two estranged brothers in 1960s Ireland. John Joe (Hill) and irascible younger brother Jimmy (Meaney) haven't spoken in more than twenty years but that is about to change with the All Ireland Traditional Music Competition. John Joe is entering his ceilidh band whilst Jimmy is returning from Liverpool determined to end his brother's winning streak with a band of his own. Over the course of the event, old rivalries are resumed, reconciliation is achieved and romance blossoms between Liverpudlian flute player Teddy (Evans) and the beautiful fiddler Anne (Corr) who is about to discover that Jimmy is her father.

Pleasant enough, The Boys From County Clare is ultimately too superficial and lazy to really make a claim on a theatrical audience. Nicholas Adams's script always allows the audience to stay one step ahead of events and holds little in the way or surprises. Every element is familiar, predictable and easily resolved from the Romeo and Juliet-style tale of star-crossed lovers to the feelings that still govern the actions of Anne's overly protective mother Maisie (Bradley). Twenty years of bitterness disappear over the course of a couple of drinks. Secret and lies are exposed and assimilated in a matter of hours. It's all so pat and cosy that nothing cuts very deep or has the chance to gain any emotional significance. A brisk running time adds to the sense of a film careering along towards a happy ending without too much concern for building conviction or exploring the chances to create something more memorable.

Bernard Hill and Colm Meaney are both old pros and snugly fit the roles assigned to them, conjuring up an affectionate relationship between the two brothers. There's also a brief appearance from Patrick Bergin as a third brother who somehow contrives to reappear from missionary work in Africa at the exact same moment that reconciliation is in the air. It's that kind of a film.

Corrs singer Andrea Corr is a radiant presence as Anne and there's promise in the engaging work of Shaun Evans as her besotted Liverpudlian admirer Teddy. Technical credits are polished with the Isle Of Man once again providing an able substitute for the Ireland of sheep-infested roads, lush green pastures, jaunty fiddle music and Guinness-filled country pubs.

Prod co: Studio Hamburg Worldwide Pictures
Int'l sales:
Overseas Film Group
Evzen Kolar, Wolfgang Esenwein, Ellen Little, Jim Reeve
Exec prods:
Martyn Auty, Steve Christian, Anthony Rufus Isaacs, David Korda, Ellen Little, Jim Reeve, Dieter Stempnierwsky
Nicholas Adams
Thomas Burstyn
Prod des:
Tom McCullagh
Ian Crafford
Fiachra Trench
Main cast:
Bernard Hill, Colm Meaney, Andrea Corr, Shaun Evans, Charlotte Bradley, Patrick Bergin