Stuck for something to watch over the Christmas break? Film buffs should do themselves a favour and check out Soulsmith, the debut feature from writer-director Kevin Henry. The drama will receive its Irish television premiere Friday, December 21.
Winner of Best International Feature at the Austin Revolution Film Festival last year, the self-funded film stars The Lobster’s Matthew O’Brien in the lead role. He plays Ed Smith, a Dublin-based writer who rose to fame at a young age in the theatre world with debut play ‘Entitled’. However, now in his 30s, his success has waned. Prepping his latest work, his brother and lead actor (Conor Marren) calls the play trash, causing Ed to headbutt him. All the while, a poor interview with a newspaper critic, leads to an unflattering portrait of the writer.
Just as things couldn’t seem to get worse, he receives word of his father’s death. Thus, he travels home to County Mayo to attend the funeral and reconnect with family and friends. The people Ed meets during the time lead the playwright to re-centre himself. He begins to question his present and search for ways to improve his life.
Anchored by a terrific performance by O’Brien – who manages to find layers in his prickly central character – Soulsmith is a film that will appeal to young creative types, struggling to find their way in the world. “We were told the world was our oyster but Ireland is definitely not that bloody oyster … The most educated generation Ireland has ever produced and we ship them off, just to get them off the dole queue,” says Ed eloquently early in the film.
However, while this makes Soulsmith sound overtly political, instead the drama probes more emotional truths. It explores how fear can affect one’s art – fear of not making money, of not being relevant, of not being respected. Provoked by tragedy, Ed learns that friends, family and looking inward are the key to the artistic process. After all, the more personal it is for the artist, the more likely it will compel audiences.
O’Brien is backed in the drama not just by a fine supporting cast but by a gorgeous Mayo setting. Kealan Ryan, playing Ed’s old schoolboy mate and comic relief Marty, deserves particular credit. His scenes with O’Brien have a live-wire energy, capturing how Irish men tend to dance around how they feel in the aftermath of tragedy, talking about everything other than the grief. Meanwhile, the actor has a strange monologue about walnuts and pistachios which may be an example of the aforementioned inane chatter. Or it could also double as the key to what the film is actually saying.
Dark, delicate but also quite funny, Soulsmith captures both the joys and struggles of living in modern Ireland. See it for yourself on Friday, December 21 on RTÉ One at 11:55 pm.