Martin McDonagh Is Finally Making ‘The Banshees of Inisheer’

The ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ director has been sitting on this one for over 20 years.
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By  · Published on February 20th, 2020

Good news: Martin McDonagh is reteaming with his In Bruges cohorts Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell for a brand new movie. According to Deadline, The Banshees of Inisheer will start shooting this summer, with Searchlight Pictures securing the worldwide rights to the director’s fourth feature. He’s been working on it for quite a while.

Little is known about the story, but it’s set on a remote Irish island. Gleeson and Farrell’s characters play lifelong friends whose relationship is tested when one of them abruptly cuts ties with the other. In true McDonagh fashion, however, there will be dark — and hilarious — consequences for the decision.

A new McDonagh movie is always exciting, but this one is particularly interesting as he’s been working on the story since his early days as a playwright. For some reason, he’s remained attached to the project over the years. It’s clear that he’s passionate about it, even though he’s always dismissed its quality in the past.

Originally, The Banshees of Inisheer was supposed to be the third installment in a series of plays McDonagh dubbed the “Aran Islands Trilogy,” which began with The Cripple of Inishmaan and was followed years later by The Lieutenant of Inishmore. These plays are loosely connected due to their close-knit Irish archipelago settings, but they also contain McDonagh’s penchant for sordid humor, violence, and provocation.

The Cripple of Inishmaan is a coming-of-age story about a disabled boy who dreams of making it big in Hollywood, only to be exploited by a documentary crew. The Lieutenant of Inishmore, meanwhile, is about an Irish terrorist who returns home to take care of his cat. During the latter play’s release in 2001, there were protests by animal rights groups and fears that the Irish Republican Army might react to it. If this movie is the spiritual successor to those plays, it’s going to be bold.

The idea for The Banshees of Inisheer was conceived in 1994, before any of his other plays had even hit the stage. During a 2016 interview with The New Yorker, McDonagh revealed that he wrote seven plays that year, all of which were produced, apart from the one he’s now adapting for the film. Why? According to McDonagh, it wasn’t “any good.”

Still, it’s understandable why he’s held onto this particular project. As the New Yorker article highlights, McDonagh has always been fascinated with the Aran Islands. He used to spend his summers there as a child and found the empty sky and water terrifying. At the same time, he was also fascinated by the isolation, the wildness, and the lunar qualities of the region.

Now that he’s making a movie set in Aran, McDonagh will also be able to fully realize the dreary landscapes and scenery that used to terrify and inspire him as a child. Expect this to be a Wild West interpretation of Ireland’s islands, but it won’t be without its moments of salt-of-the-earth honesty, either.

Like the other Irish-set stories to come from McDonagh’s imagination, The Banshees of Inisheer will explore the day-to-day life of a rural community and the types of characters who inhabit it. The story will take some dark and unexpected turns, but the director will also be out to make a movie that’s quintessentially Irish, much like he did with the plays that predate this movie.

It will be interesting to see if the film will be a throwback to McDonagh’s old style, or if it will reflect the more restrained sensibilities he’s showcased since becoming a filmmaker. His early Irish plays are full of local banter and cruelty, and while he hasn’t lost his knack for dark comedy and grotesque thrills since then, he has reigned in those elements quite a bit.

For now, what the movie will entail is a mystery. But it’s great to know that McDonagh is continuing to focus on bringing his own stories to life because they are always interesting and unlike anything else being produced. However, he’s spent decades making sure this one is up to scratch, so it’s probably going to be brilliant.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.