Grace Under Fire

As The Cry Of Granuaile hits the big screen at The Whale, we talk to writer-director Dónal Foreman.


Sailing into town on a wave of rave reviews, The Cry Of Granuaile is just the type of offering film lovers worry aren’t been made anymore.

That Ireland should be producing films such as this and the superlative The Quiet Girl are proof positive to Martin Scorsese’s Marvel-mauling belief that bigger is rarely better.

According to The Irish Times, ‘experimental film is seldom so playful’, whilst Film Ireland dubbed it ‘haunting’ and ‘captivating’, whilst the Sindo admired its possession of ‘an off-kilter romance that pulls you along’.

Filmed in lush 16mm, the celebrated character actor Dale Dickey plays the grieving American filmmaker in The Cry Of Granuaile (Ireland/PG/82mins), touring the West of Ireland with her Irish assistant (Judith Roddy) as she researches the 16th century pirate queen Grace O’Malley. Soon, the past and the present, myth and history, dreams and reality, begin to merge.

As so very often happens in the west of Ireland. Especially after a pint or five.

Hitting the big screen at The Whale on Thursday, January 26th, this genre-defying blend of psychodrama and fantasy comes from Dónal Foreman, the director of the award-winning The Image You Missed.

We caught up with Donal Foreman.

How did the idea of The Cry of Granuaile come about?
I’d been daydreaming about doing something on Granuaile for years. It always seemed strange that no-one had made a film about such a fascinating figure before. Then I had a meeting with a film producer in New York who told me if I could come up with an idea about an American woman in Ireland, he could get a movie star attached and raise the money. I thought that sounded like a terrible idea. We all know what those movies are like. But I kept thinking about it, and started wondering if maybe I could subvert that idea, and do something more personal and distinctive with it. I came up with this idea and contacted the producer – he never replied. But I was attached to it at that stage, so I figured out a way to make it anyway.

It can take a long time for an idea to become a script, and even longer for that script to become a film – how was it for you?
I was lucky this time. I’ve had other projects take as a long as seven years to come to fruition, and some that never do, but I had the idea for this knocking around my head for less than a year before I applied to the Arts Council with it. At that stage, I only had a four page outline of the project – my proposal was to develop the full script through rehearsals with the actors, as I had on my first feature, and the Arts Council thankfully are very open to such unconventional ways of working. About seven months later, we were on Clare Island shooting the film. Finishing the film was a little more dragged out. The pandemic hit just as I started to edit the project, and it ended up taking over a year and a half to get the film ready for cinemas.

Having two features to your credit must have helped enormously when it came to the Arts Council, and finding your cast and crew…?
I think having that previous work is always helpful to give people a taste of your sensibility and what you’re capable of. That said, both of those films (Out of Here and The Image You Missed) are as different from each other as they are from The Cry of Granuaile, so I think this project still required a leap of faith from everyone involved. I’m very grateful that everyone involved took that leap, and especially that the Arts Council were willing to take a chance on it as the first film of their Authored Works scheme.

You were blessed to get Dale Dickey as Maire, one of the finest character actors around – how did you manage that?
I had a great American executive producer on board, Mike S. Ryan, who’s a veteran of the US indie film world – he’s worked with Kelly Reichardt, Hal Hartley, Todd Solondz and many others. He helped connect us with Dale’s agents and I wrote her a letter saying how much I valued her work and what I thought she could bring to the film. We had a meeting on Skype and I was all geared up to pitch the film to her and convince her to play the part. About five minutes in, I realized she’d already decided she was going to do it before we even spoke! I think she really connected to some of the ideas around grief and loss that were at the heart of the film. I was really grateful to have a collaborator as open, generous and inventive as Dale. She is truly one of the best.

And the enduring legend of Grace O’Malley – why do you think our pirate queen has become such an icon again?
Part of what fascinated me about Granuaile is that each generation has made her mean something different, to suit the needs of the time, and sometimes to suit their own particular cultural or political agendas. As an image and a myth, she’s always being re-interpreted and re-invented. I think that’s still happening now. As a singular female leader in a very patriarchal world, she’s a very archetypal feminist symbol, so that’s obviously a big part of her appeal these days.

And getting Donald Clarke to go against type as a pompous film critic – how difficult was that?
After Donald kindly agreed to play that part, I sent him a little fictional biography of Dale’s filmmaker character, and then had him come in to our rehearsal studio to do an improvised interview with Dale that served as the basis for the scene in the film. Donald’s instincts were to be a lot more polite and tactful than what you see on screen; I had to push him a bit more in that direction. But once he got going, I think he quite enjoyed himself.

The Cry of Granuaile is not an easy film to describe – part of the attraction for you? That there were layers at play here…?
Yes, definitely. I knew that I wanted to explore the idea of Granuaile as an image that was always being reinvented, and that naturally led itself to this kaleidoscopic, dreamy structure. I also liked the idea of a film where the form of the film was constantly shifting and evolving –
something you see in literature a lot, but not so often in narrative films.

The Cry of Granuaile is the type of film which can be hard to sell too, given that cinema has generally been taken over by the comicbook world. Easy to accept that most people will see your film at home…?
A film like this – which is quite challenging and unconventional, but I think also very sensuous, with these rich visuals and sound design, and this lush orchestral score… It just works better on the big screen, where it can really immerse you and (hopefully) cast a spell. So I do wish more people get a chance to see it that way. But the world is what it is, and ultimately you want as many people to see the film as possible. Except on their phones. Please don’t watch it on a phone.

Finally, what’s up next…?
I’m currently shooting a documentary project about the past, present and future of a little-known and rarely-filmed area of New York City. I’m also developing several fiction scripts, including a few full-on Irish period pieces.

Oh, and why did you add the fada? Or were the likes of imdb and beyond just always missing it?
My name has always officially had the fada, I just didn’t bother about it for a long time. Now I find that internationally (and especially in the US, where no-one knows how to pronounce it) it’s a good way of signifying that it’s an unusual name; proceed with caution, and please don’t call me Donald!

You can grab your ticket for The Cry Of Granuaile at The Whale on Thursday, January 26th here.



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