Dancing at Lughnasa

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Pat O'Connor

REVIEWED: 12-27-98

The Irish spirit may be a battleground between a pagan past and an imposed Christianity, but too often the artistic result is a sentimental reconciliation. Such is the case in Brian Friel's acclaimed play Dancing at Lughnasa, which has been adapted with some flair for the screen by Pat O'Connor. The film begins dutifully enough with a black-and-white flashback of a priest observing African tribal celebrations before settling comfortably into a stagebound iteration of the original's programmatic bromides. Father Jack (a genuinely touching Michael Gambon), the priest in question, returns to his tiny Donegal village to be greeted by his doting five sisters. There's flinty schoolmarm Kate (Meryl Streep), long-suffering but gay-hearted Agnes (Brid Brennan), stolid Maggie (Kathy Burke), "simple" Rose (Sophie Thompson), and the youngest, rebellious Christine (Catherine McCormack), along with her illegitimate son Michael, an adult version of whom provides the bland, retrospective voiceover narrative.

Father Jack has, unfortunately, been rendered dotty by his encounter with the heart of dimness, and his scandalous incapacity adds one more burden to the teetering Mundy household, whose members are harried by economic hardship and social ostracism. The title refers to the ancient Irish harvest festival (celebrated August 1, in honor of the god Lugh) -- should the girls join in and kick up their heels in the face of their snooty neighbors? Neither the gods nor the God-fearing get a fair shake in this turgid rehash of Olde Soddisms.

--Peter Keough

Capsule Reviews
Dancing at Lughnasa

Other Films by Pat O'Connor
Inventing the Abbotts

Film Vault Suggested Links
A Christmas Carol
Brokedown Palace
The Trial

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