“CORK is magic,” says Aoife Crehan, writer and director of a new Irish film, The Last Right.
It is one of the reasons why the action takes place in Clonakilty, before it literally hits the road when its main characters embark on a road trip across Ireland.
Crehan spends a lot of time in Cork and it was here that inspiration for the film took hold.
“I spend lots of time in Inchydoney, my folks have a holiday home there, and my sister is married to a Cork man,” says Aoife.
“Cork has such stunning beauty. The light is so beautiful here, especially in West Cork. There is a unique quality to it.
“From the point of view of filming, you can’t cheat that light and you just don’t find it anywhere else.
“I started writing the script here and ended up writing most of it in Cork so it had to be set here. It wouldn’t be right for it to be anywhere else.
“They say write what you know and Clonakilty and the locality is something I know well. I love it here and I wanted to share it with everyone. I want people to know how gorgeous it is here.”
The film stars Michiel Huisman as the elder of the two brothers, Daniel, who has come home from New York to attend his mother’s funeral in Clonakilty.
Louis (Samuel Bottomley) is the younger brother. He is autistic and isn’t coping with the changes going on around him, nor does he take well to his brother returning after a long absence.
On the flight back to Ireland, Daniel sat beside an older man who was returning home to bury his brother. Sadly, the man dies on the flight and unwittingly Daniel is charged with burying him. The problem is the burial is on Rathlin Island.
Daniel and Louis embark on a road trip with a coffin strapped to the roof of the car, and Mary (Niamh Algar), the sister of the local funeral home owner, joins them on the journey.
Unfortunately, the trio end up on the wrong side of the law and Colm Meaney plays a detective hot on their tail. Meaney was happy to be back in Cork and reminisces about his time filming War of the Buttons in 1994. “I love Cork, although I shouldn’t really say that as a Dubliner” he laughs “seriously though, it is a beautiful county. I love to spend time, particularly in West Cork. I read The Echo online. It is a terrific newspaper.”
Dutchman Huisman is no stranger to Irish shores following his stint as Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones. “For my character, the movie is about finding a home. He thinks his home is now in the United States, but coming back to Cork makes him question that,” says Huisman.
“The natural beauty of it all breaks open a part of his heart that has been closed off for a long time. The first morning he wakes up at home in Clonakilty and looks out the window and sees the ocean, he knows he is home but he has big decisions to make. His job is in New York. He has made a life there, but seeing the sea like that? If it was me, I know I wouldn’t want to leave.”
For Bottomley, filming The Last Right wasn’t just his first time in Cork, but his first time in Ireland. The Bradford lad was just 17 at the time of filming. “I fell in love with Cork. Seeing all the houses with jetties in and around Clonakilty makes me want to move here,” he says.
Bottomley says part of the attraction of doing the film was the chance to play a character with autism. “It was a big challenge and I really wanted to do it right. I had a lot to learn and I’m really glad I got the chance to play Louis.”
This is Crehan’s first feature film and she says it was a dream to get to work with such a well-regarded cast. “I am still pinching myself. Colm (Meaney) is a legend in my house. On the first day of filming, he had barely gotten out of his car and my whole family were trooping over to shake his hand. It was a dream to work with him.”
The film is a comedy, but has plenty of heartfelt moments and some darker curveballs. Finding that balance was important to Crehan. “If you nudge it one way it was a farce, go another way and it was too bleak. I was most nervous about getting the balance, but I was blessed with truthful actors who really inhabited the moment and didn’t play it all for laughs.”
Female writer-directors are still in the minority compared to their contemporaries and this was one of the reasons Meaney took the role. “There is a change, but it is glacially slow. It was great to see a woman behind this; we need to see it happen more. I took on the film because it had so much going for it. It had a really great script and there was a woman behind it. These are two great reasons to be in a film.”
The interview took place the day after the film had its premiere in the Everyman Theatre at the Cork Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Film and the interviewees are still buzzing from seeing it on home territory. “It was our first time seeing it with an audience,” says Crehan “The magic of cinema is that shared experience. Seeing everyone laugh together and then be quiet together is a special feeling and getting to see it with a home audience just made it extra special.”
The Last Right opens in cinema nationwide tomorrow, December 6, cert: 15a.