September 5 will see the release of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Irish movies of all time Black 47. Directed by Lance Daly, and set against the backdrop of the single most horrific event in Irish history, the film tells the story of Irish ranger Fenney (James Frecheville), a soldier in the British imperial army, who, upon hearing of the terrible famine ravaging his own country, returns home to discover that grave injustices have been carried out against his family. Fueled by anger, Fenney sets out to exact revenge against those who are complicit in the horrendous miscarriages of justice that have been carried out in the name of the United Kingdom, of which Ireland, at this time, was a direct part of following the 1801 Act of Union.
A story which promises gritty realism, action set-pieces, and good old fashioned Western revenge, Black 47 has the potential to be a huge commercial hit at home here in Ireland. However, does it have the ability to travel outside of the emerald isle?
I want to begin by saying that there are many wonderful Irish movies out there. From dark dystopian dramas like The Lobster, to heartwarming Indie darlings like Sing Street and Handsome Devil, there has always been a presence of great Irish movies, Irish filmmakers, and Irish actors for a long long time. While our nation’s great acting talents like Saoirse Ronan, Michael Fassbender and Liam Neeson have gone on to become worldwide stars, our nation’s great filmmakers have not achieved the same level of international success.
That’s not to say that these filmmakers haven’t been very successful because many have, such as Lenny Abrahamson who directed Room, or Neil Jordan who had great commercial success with Interview with a Vampire, but their level of fame and success is dwarfed by their actor counterparts. Once you get to the level of Irish movies the waters are muddied even more, because you’d be hard pressed to find someone outside of Ireland that could name a classic Irish movie.
When we, as Irish people, think of classic Irish movies we might think of Michael Collins, The Wind that Shakes the Barley or The Commitments. When Americans think of Irish movies they’re more likely to think of Far and Away, The Quiet Man or P.S. I Love You, none of which were directed by Irish directors, nor were they produced by Irish companies. It’s significant that our cultural identity, as portrayed by film, at least in the United States, has been dictated by content that wasn’t produced by us in the first place, and this is where a movie like Black 47 has the potential to change all that.
Hopefully the movie will become a massive financial success at home, which will no doubt be helped by the fact that according to director Lance Daly in an interview with RTÉ, the movie will boast the biggest opening of an Irish movie ever in domestic cinemas. If the movie is a giant success here, which I hope it is, that will certainly give American distributors reason to push for a wider release, similar to what happened to Jordan Peele’s Get Out after its initial runaway success. If something like Black 47 can become a big financial success it will help Irish movies get greater funding moving forward as one of the biggest problems that’s affected Irish movies has been an inability to turn a large financial profit.
Huge critical successes like Sing Street and The Wind that Shakes the Barley didn’t translate those critical plaudits into large amounts of cash, and if we want the Irish movie industry to progress and move forward, it has to prove that the movies it produces can generate income that warrant their creation. If we want higher quality Irish movies with bigger budgets we need to support them by going to the cinema and seeing them as they were meant to be seen. Not waiting for them to appear on RTÉ or Netflix and then raving about how great they are.
Black 47 is out in cinemas September 5.