The first Irish film studio came about in 1958 and since then, Ireland has produced a great number of films across many genres. With a few exceptions, Irish drama tends to focus on more recent times, though each touches upon an important aspect of Irish history and culture. We’ve identified ten important Irish drama films we think you should watch below and for the sake of brevity, the list has been limited to films taking place in the Republic of Ireland. You can let us know your favorites in the comments.
This recent 2017 release marks one of Ireland’s finest entries into the crime genre. The film focuses on Jayson Connelly, a young gangster in Darndale looking to make a name for himself and rise in the ranks by taking over the drug trade from a more experienced criminal. The film proved to be the most-watched national film of 2017.
My Left Foot
Based upon the life of famed author and painter Christy Brown, My Left Foot is a 1989 adaptation of Brown’s autobiography. Famed actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays Brown, a man born with cerebral palsy who could only move his left foot, which he developed into a successful artistic career. The film was the debut of Irish director Jim Sheridan and won Day-Lewis his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
The struggle for success is one any artist can understand and the 2007 film Once sees a pair of musicians trying to make it in Dublin. The main characters lack names, as do most of the cast, and the story revolves around their potential romance as they write and play together. This is the first of two films on this list featuring Glen Hansard and his musical talents.
Certainly a favorite topic of Irish period dramas is the Irish War of Independence and its aftermath. One of the greatest film offerings on this topic is a biopic of Michael Collins, a revolutionary and interim government leader played by Liam Neeson. The film follows Collins through most of his adult life through to his eventual assassination, attempting to answer some of the questions surrounding his death.
The Secret of Kells
It might seem strange to feature an animated film on this list, but 2009’s The Secret of Kells isn’t just a film for children, but a look back to the earliest days of Irish Christianity and a fictional account of the creation of the Book of Kells. Set during the 9th Century at the Abbey of Kells, it follows a young monk named Brendan who befriends a faerie and is learning illumination of manuscripts as the Abbey’s community is attacked by Viking raiders.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
This fictional account of the Irish War of Independence was released in 2006 and features two brothers (played by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) who join the IRA. Similar to the film Michael Collins, the film runs through the War of Independence and into the Irish Civil War that followed, with the brothers ending up on different sides.
This 2016 comedy-drama goes back to 1980s Dublin and tells the story of a boy named Conor who forms a band to impress a girl. The film was directed by John Carney, who was also responsible for Once and like that film, its success has led to be adapted into a stage musical.
The Magdalene Sisters
The Magdalene Asylums (also known as “Magdalene Laundries”) represent a darker part of modern Irish culture and the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters details the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse suffered by “fallen” girls sent to work there by their families. While most of the main characters get a happy ending, the tragedies take their toll.
A bit of a cross between comedy and thriller, The Guard features Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle as a Garda and an American FBI agent caught in a web of murder, drugs, and gun running. The film was released in 2011 and remains one of the most successful independent Irish films ever made.
Another blend of comedy and drama, The Commitments is a 1991 adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel of the same name. When Jimmy Rabbitte decides to form and manage a soul band to make it big in the music industry, he collects an eccentric group of performers to help his dream succeed. Regarded as one of the best Irish films ever made, The Commitments has a cult status in the States and helped launch the careers of the band The Corrs, all of whom played a role in the movie.