‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is one of the most heartfelt and immediately loveable films of the year. Based on Yasmine Akram’s play, ’10 dates for Mad Mary’, and directed by first time director Darren Thornton, the film is a compassionate tale of friendship, love and adversity. The film stars relative unknown Seána Kerslake, as the titular character “Mad” Mary McArdle.
The plot involves Mary’s recent release from Mountjoy prison, after an apparent assault charge, as well as her subsequent attempt at reintegration into her old way of life, in Drogheda. But, as she soon comes to realise, the life she left, for better or for worse, is not the same as the one awaiting her upon her return. Her best, and only, friend Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) is about to get married. Charlene denies Mary a “plus one” invite to the event, assuming that she would be unable to find a date in time, leading Mary to become determined in disproving her. Struggling to find her place in a world she is completely ostracised from.
This relatively unassuming plot summary does nothing to speak of the true richness of this film, which lies in its characters and the quality of its script. Through our protagonist of Mary, we are granted insight into the very down-to-earth life of a young woman who finds herself at constant odds with the world around her, while desperately clinging to a life she once knew, but which has left her behind. Alienated by her friends and family she attempts to both mature as a person, while staying true to herself.
Mary is an incredibly well-written and captivating character. Seána Kerslake gives an incredible, nuanced performance of her character’s subtle complexities, especially for such a new face in film. From her gruff, abrasive exterior to her more sensitive and lonely side. Eloquently expressing emotion with little more than a twitch of the lip or a seemingly vacant gaze, achieving a calibre of performance, which even the recent breakout success ‘Sing Street’ could not.
Thornton masterfully directs scenes from beginning to end, with a particular highlight being the scene in which Mary comes face to face with the victim of her assault. This wordless encounter manages to say more than any dialogue could about the ways in which Mary’s past haunts her, like an inescapable, ghostly presence, looming over her at all times. His incredible sound work with this scene is enthralling.
On one level, ‘A Date for Mad Mary’ is a wonderful, true to life look into the difficulties of a troubled woman transitioning into maturity. But, on another level it is also a sign of the times for Irish cinema, which has seen a recent renaissance of sorts, with modern Irish films such as ‘Calvary’, ‘Frank’, ‘Brooklyn’, ‘Room’ and the previously mentioned ‘Sing Street’ all receiving international, critical acclaim. With two of the aforementioned films receiving nominations for best picture. As well as the country itself being used by larger productions as a frequent filming location, such as ‘Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
One contributors to the current success in Irish cinema was made possible by the re-establishment of the Irish Film Board in 1993. The Irish Film Board attempts to bring Irish films to international audiences, through their assistance and funding.
The fruits of their labour, however, have begun to truly ripen in the past half decade or so, with an increase in recognition for their achievements. The film industry has taken years to get to this point, with over twenty years already spent in the funding of Irish projects. It was a long process for the board to acquire the necessary skills to both identify viable projects and to advise film makers on the production of those projects.
Unfortunately the Irish Film Board’s funding is down 40 per cent to €11.2 million from its 2008 peak of €20 million. The challenge now for the Irish film board and the industry is to make a persuasive case for a re-establishment of funding levels seen prior to 2008. To do this they will need to both persuade the government and the wider film going audience of its merits.