21st November 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin review: McDonagh gets the band back together

McDonagh’s newest film strikes a potent balance between tragedy and hilarity
The Banshees of Inisherin review: McDonagh gets the band back together
Photo: Searchlight Pictures @ 20th Century Studios (2022)

In an attempt to deepen my appreciation of film – and have a break from films starring Harry Styles – it seemed only fitting to give Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin a watch. With whispers of an Oscar nomination for Colin Farrell, and a stream of overwhelmingly positive reviews, my curiosity was struck.  

McDonagh directed both In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, the latter being a favourite of mine. But I  must confess, when I first saw the trailer for the Banshees I was left wondering what could possibly fill the two hours? One of today’s most acclaimed directors making a film about a mere falling out… seemed a bit meh to me. 

To help me out, I brought along my favourite film-buff duo and die-hard In Bruges fans – also known as my mates James and Louis. This particular panel is one-half Irish, one-half actor, so I felt it rather fitting. And how lucky I was to have them point out that what I had originally perceived as ‘meh’ was, in fact, a pretty expertly crafted, rather beautiful, allegory of Irish history.  

The film itself is a fable, and a hilarious one. Lifelong old friends from the remote and scarcely populated island of Inisherin, Colm and Pádraic, have been wasting away the hours at the pub together since they can remember. Suddenly, one morning Colm decides he’s had enough of his confidant and insists Pádraic leave him alone to focus on his fiddle playing.  

Pádraic, the smiley simpleton of an already simple island, can’t seem to wrap his head around his friend’s change of heart. Pádraic’s insistence on repairing the unprompted damage soon provokes Colm to threaten to cut off his own fingers if he isn’t left alone.  

Throughout the dark comedy Pádraic’s sister Siobhán yearns for a more meaningful life on the mainland; none-the-wiser neighbours weigh in on the conflict and a witchy old woman observes all the tribulations. A true highlight of the film is Barry Keoghan’s performance as the ultimate village idiot, Dominic, who still suffers his fair share of tragedy. 

It may seem like not an awful lot happens, but McDonagh has found his previous work too plotty. And the product of this reflection is a sombre introspective tale of friendship and legacy.  

My informal film buff team then helped me pick apart the film over an even more informal pint. James explained that the relationship between the two friends nods to the Irish Civil War. Colm and his insistence on leaving a lasting mark represents the shift from old Ireland to new. His self-appointed role as the worldliest figure on the island contrasts the majority of islanders who are happy to go on with their lives. It’s no surprise, then, that conflict occurs. 

The history between the friends is what originally makes the conflict seem farcical, then eventually so tragic. Both sides appreciate there are lines considered too grave to cross. Although just a donkey and a dog in the film, it’s clear that certain damage is irreparable. What begins as a shockingly violent out-of-nowhere conflict is left with scars just deep enough to last, even when the two shake hands.  

Louis then reminded me how clever McDonagh can be. Siobhán, truly smarter than everybody, was always ready to be part of the new Ireland. She’s the only character always dressed in colour. She’s never truly welcome by the other islanders. She’s the only one who eventually makes it to the mainland in the end. 

Not only is the film backdropped by sublime landscapes, the entire cinema was giggling. It’s certainly worth a watch, or even two. What is so poignant about the supposedly 100-year-old tale is that it could happen between friends now. You are left with a resounding feeling of whether human nature really changes and if we’ll be remembered once we’re gone. 


The Banshees of Inisherin is in cinemas now.

Libby Elliott

Libby Elliott

Co-Investigations Editor | Shortlisted for the SPA2022 Rising Star Award | Voted Best Mancunion Newcomer at the MMG Awards 2022

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