I have not yet been to Ireland, but based on what I have seen in movies, its either a war-torn devastation or an idyllic country dotted with cute little villages. I imagine Hollywood doesn’t paint a completely realistic picture of the Emerald Isle, but I guess a truer portrayal would also be kind of boring and undramatic for storytelling purposes. Waking Ned Devine is a delightful little film that falls under the idyllic country category. It came out during a time when Hollywood seemed infatuated with telling Irish stories set in villages where people do nothing but drink and enjoy each other’s company. Unlike many of its brethren, Ned Devine manages to hold up as a heartwarming story with a big heart.

Waking Ned Devine is set in a tiny Irish village called Tullymoore (I have no idea whether or not this place is real). Everyone seems to know each other and whatever money anyone makes is spent at the local pub. A popular tradition shared among everyone is the playing of the national lotto. The film opens with the winning numbers of that week’s lotto. Apparently one of the villagers has won the lotto and our two main characters, best friends Jackie O’Shea (the late Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly), are determined to find out who it is. Upon discovering that the winner, Ned Devine, is dead, they decide to hatch a scheme to attain the winnings from the winning lotto ticket. To pull this off, however, they have to convince the lotto authorities that Ned Devine is alive and well.

Had a story like this been made in the U.S., it would most likely have a darker undertone involving backstabbing, jealousy, and murder. Transport the story to Ireland, however, and you have a charming (no pun intended) little tale of happy, innocent simpletons who attempt to defraud the authorities. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to belittle the story in any way by my description of it. My point is that this type of story is a familiar one that takes on a whole different feel and look when set somewhere completely different. I in fact really took to the story and you will realize that the scheme is merely a setup to establish the bond of friendship between the two principal characters. What makes Waking Ned Devine work is not its plot, but its characters and the chemistry between them.

I don’t believe Waking Ned Devine would be anywhere as memorable or successful had it not been for Ian Bannen and David Kelly. You completely forget that these are two actors playing characters. The chemistry between them and the ease with which they perform their parts appears as if these two actors have known each other for as long as the characters have been friends. You immediately take a liking to them when they appear onscreen. Bannen, with his mischievous eyes and smile, is a playful, wily old man who comes up with the story’s intricate plots to defraud the lotto authorities. His best friend, played by Kelly, is his unwilling partner who reluctantly agrees to go along with the plan. You don’t care whether or not the plan works because its such a joy just watching these two characters get so worked up over pulling it off. Strong characters like this are the product of great character development and, just as importantly, good casting and performances. All these elements are perfectly combined here to give us unforgettable characters.

Waking Ned Devine is a very good film that no doubt will lighten your spirits. Its a small film about the bonds of friendship and the ties of community. It contains some of the best character development I have seen in recent years and its a great example for any screenwriter looking for a good character-driven screenplay thats balanced by a good story. Make sure you see this film if you haven’t already and I guarantee you’ll be delightfully surprised by it.