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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

That They May Face The Rising Sun -a staggeringly beautiful and delicately moving drama

4 out of 5



That They May Face the Rising Sun is an adaptation of the final novel from John McGahern. Director Pat Collins’s film sees aspiring writer John (Barry Ward) and his artist wife Kate (Anna Bederke) return from London to live and work among a small, rural, lakeside community in Ireland near to where Joe grew up. The drama is based on a year in their lives and those of the memorable characters that move about them.


Living on a quiet little farm, John spends his days working on a novel that he never gets closer to finishing, while Kate weaves plants into ornate sculptures for no specific reason. There is talk of a gallery in London and it's a minor plot in the overall drama. The couple's peaceful existence is only interrupted by the small group of neighbours who drop by for a chat and a cigarette at their kitchen table as everything moves at its own pace over the course of a year. Although some may be put off by the aimless nature of the plot, there’s an arresting tenderness at the heart of this tranquil reflection on life.



Opening with a long shot of the gorgeous Irish countryside (it looks like Connemara), this film immediately immerses viewers in its tone, as gentle piano music and birdsong accompany the opening credits. The stunning scenery of the small island the feature takes place on is the real main character, with eye-widening scenes of rolling green hills and golden sunshine reflecting on a lake’s surface making viewers long to envelop themselves in these surroundings. Moreover, while John and the other islanders go through the motions of their day-to-day lives, the scenery is the only thing that goes through any real change throughout the year. As John poignantly describes the transition to autumn in his novel, the skeletal wooden frame of a shed sits untouched in the garden.


There’s a playful sense of humour in the characters’ interactions, especially when it comes to the blunt honesty of gruff caretaker Patrick (Lalor Roddy), but there’s also a bittersweet melancholy shared between the key players in some of the quieter moments. Patrick, for example, longs to recapture his dreams of becoming an actor, whereas Johnny (Sean McGinley) has had to make the most out of his life not turning out how he wanted it to.



There's humour too, among the sadness and plenty of playful moments between the characters.

The result is a staggeringly beautiful and delicately moving drama, which thoughtfully examines life in a close-knit rural community. It won't be to everyone's liking but I thoroughly enjoyed the slow pace and the time taken to tell the story.

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