Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Roddy Doyle
Starring: Tina Kellegher, Colm Meaney, & Brendan Gleeson
The 1990’s saw a resurgence in films about the working class Irish. My Left Foot, The Commitments, In the Name of the Father, and Waking Ned Devine are just a few notable films among many that came out during this decade. What really sucked about watching these films in the pre-DVD days was that you had no ability to watch them with subtitles on, and without subtitles, it can be quite a challenge trying to decipher what the hell a character is saying. So what explains this wave of Irish cinema in the 1990s? In the late 1980’s, Ireland recognized the importance of promoting its own film industry so it passed industry-friendly tax laws that helped contribute to the growth of the “second wave” of filmmaking that took off in the 1990s. In fact, there were more Irish-produced films in the 1990s than in the entire 90 years before this decade! This decade saw the emergence of widely respected filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) and Neil Jordan (The Crying Game).
Although he is English, not Irish, director Stephen Frears has also come up through the ranks to become one of the most respected filmmakers working today. Frears made his name far before he directed The Snapper, with such classics as Dangerous Liasons (1988) and The Grifters (1990). In 1993, Frears directed The Snapper, which was released as a TV movie. This film is part of a trilogy of films that are adaptations of Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy of books (the very popular The Commitments and The Van being the other two). It should be noted that Doyle wrote the screenplay for The Snapper as well.
Like all of Doyle’s stories, The Snapper centers on working-class Dubliners. Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) is a grocery store clerk in Barrytown, which is a north Dublin working–class suburb. The story begins when she announces to her parents that she is pregnant (or as its referred to by the characters, “Sharon Curley’s up the pole”). However, the unmarried Sharon refuses to reveal who the father is. Sharon’s parents, Dessie and Kay (Colm Meaney and Ruth McCabe) take the news surprisingly well considering the circumstances. Sharon’s girlfriends, Dessie’s drinking buddies, and the neighbors all take this news similarly well that is until, the father is revealed to be George Burgess (Pat Laffan), the middle-aged family man who lives across the street from Sharon’s house and whose daughter is one of Sharon’s friends AND he also happens to be one of Dessie’s drinking buddies. Sharon now becomes ostracized and viewed as the town whore and a home-wrecker. She goes on the defensive and declares that the true father of her child is an unknown Spanish sailor who took advantage of her one night when she was drunk.
The Irish seem to be born with the gift of gab – they can walk into any bar and not only carry on a lively conversation, but take joy in giving and taking information and gossip from an intimate gathering of pals. The Snapper embodies this characteristic of the Irish. Its about hard working people, who live in tiny, cramped houses stuck next to each other in small cramped neighborhoods. Chances are that if you have some juicy gossip on someone, everyone else on your street also knows about it and they are all talking about it at the local watering hole, the neighborhood’s central repository of gossip. With this type of environment, one can imagine the scandalous nature of finding out an unmarried young woman got pregnant by a much older, family man.
Colm Meaney as Dessie, the patriarch of the family, and Tina Kellegher as Sharon, Dessie’s pregnant daughter, are fantastic. Sci-fi geeks are quite familiar with Colm Meaney as Miles O’Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and now plays Thomas Durant in the hit AMC series, Hell on Wheels). Nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Dessie, Meaney’s character is a man full of contradictions: humble, but proud; the ruler of the house, but easily silenced by his wife and daughter; not much of a financial provider, but an emotionally giving and loving father. The relationship between Dessie and Sharon is especially close. Dessie does not treat his daughter like a shameful outcast for what she has done or forcefully take charge of her life to fix the things she has screwed up. Dessie instead treats Sharon like a good friend, without condescending her. As her father, he tries very hard to do what is right, and that is to support whatever decision she wants to make no matter how difficult it may be for him to accept it. There is a wonderful scene in the film where Dessie purchases a baby book in order to learn what a woman goes through during her pregnancy. One night he enters Sharon’s bedroom and asks her if she ever feels cramps and she is touched by the fact that her father has taken such huge steps to stand by her side.
I have not seen Tina Kellegher in anything other than The Snapper nor have I ever heard of her name. She is a marvel here and just as deserving, if not more so, of awards attention (which she unfortunately did not get). As Sharon Curley goes through the stages of pregnancy, she also undergoes a transformation from being an irresponsible, immature girl who likes to get drunk every night with her friends to a woman who is about to mother and be responsible for a child. Kellegher convincingly portrays her character’s transition and displays Sharon Curley’s independent, strong-willed attitude.
If you have seen Alan Parker’s The Commitments, the first film in this trilogy, you will notice a marked difference in content, feel, and style compared to Parker’s more slick looking movie. The Snapper is a rougher, British TV drama, and as such, it focuses more on character comedy and less on the drama and emotions contained in The Commitments. Stephen Frears keeps this film going at a fast clip, never descending into gross Hollywood sentimentality. At the same time, the film is not without some sentimentality. Under all of its sharp bicker and banter, we can see a rowdily inspiring study of a family pulling together under pressure, standing by each other in tough times.
Stories about pregnancy seem to always be a popular topic for a movie. For a long time, stories about unwed mothers were controversial enough to make stories about them interesting. However, with our slightly more sophisticated and saavy cinematic minds, a movie about a young, unmarried girl is just not as shocking or interesting as it once was. The Snapper does very well with the material it has, but I found myself not really caring whether or not Sharon Curley’s family and the rest of the neighborhood found out the real father of Sharon’s baby. When it is revealed to the audience who the father is, I found myself shrugging my shoulders as to his identity. This film’s beauty lies in the strong familial bonds of Sharon’s family and especially in the relationship she has with her father. Sharon ends up having the baby (I assume abortion was definitely out of the question in the devoutly religious and conservative Irish neighborhood the story is set in) and everyone lives happily ever after (without anyone knowing who the real father is) in the end. But again, the final outcome is not as important as the interaction of the characters with each other and their development throughout the story.