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Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)

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Five unmarried sisters make the most of their simple existence in rural Ireland in the 1930s.

Director:

Pat O'Connor

Writers:

Brian Friel (play), Frank McGuinness (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Gerard McSorley ... Narration by (voice)
Meryl Streep ... Kate Mundy
Michael Gambon ... Father Jack Mundy
Catherine McCormack ... Christina Mundy
Kathy Burke ... Maggie Mundy
Sophie Thompson ... Rose Mundy
Brid Brennan ... Agnes Mundy
Rhys Ifans ... Gerry Evans
Darrell Johnston Darrell Johnston ... Michael Mundy
Lorcan Cranitch ... Danny Bradley
John Kavanagh ... Father Carlin
Marie Mullen Marie Mullen ... Vera McLoughlin
Dawn Bradfield Dawn Bradfield ... Sophia McLoughlin
Peter Gowen ... Austin Morgan
Kate O'Toole Kate O'Toole ... Chemist
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Storyline

A young boy tells the story of growing up in a fatherless home with his unmarried mother and four spinster aunts in 1930's Ireland. Each of the five women, different from the other in temperament and capability, is the emotional support system, although at times reluctantly, for each other, with the eldest assuming the role of a 'somewhat meddling' overseer. But then into this comes an elderly brother, a priest too senile to perform his clerical functions, who has "come home to die" after a lifetime in Africa; as well, there also arrives the boy's father, riding up on a motorcycle, only to announce that he's on his way to Spain to fight against Franco. Nevertheless, life goes on for the five sisters, although undeniably affected by the presence of the two men, they continue to cope as a close-knit unit... until something happens that disrupts the very fabric of that cohesiveness beyond repair. Written by BOB STEBBINS <stebinsbob@aol.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

boy | 1930s | ireland | time | motorcycle | See All (174) »

Taglines:

Five sisters embrace the spirit of a people.

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements | See all certifications »
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Details

Official Sites:

Sony Pictures Classics

Country:

Ireland | UK | USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 November 1998 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Bailando entre sueños See more »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$83,759, 15 November 1998

Gross USA:

$2,287,818

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$2,287,818
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

During filming, the cast, including Meryl Streep, stayed at the Highlands Hotel in the village of Glenties, Donegal. The hotel is owned by relatives of Mark Flood. See more »

Goofs

The song 'The homes of Donegal' was written in 1955 while the movie was set in the 30s. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Narration by: When I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me. We got our first wireless set that summer. Well, a sort of a set, and it obsessed us. We called it Lugh, after the old pagan god of the harvest, and his festival was Lughnasa, a time of music and dance. Then my mother's brother, my uncle Jack came home from Africa for the first time in twenty five years. He was the oldest in the family, and the only boy.
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Crazy Credits

During the opening credits, stills of African tribal dances and of Jack as priest in Africa are shown. See more »

Connections

Featured in Dancing at Lughnasa: On Location (1998) See more »

Soundtracks

"The Isle of Capri' (1934)
Music by Will Grosz (as William Grosz)
Lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy
Sung a cappella by Rhys Ifans and danced by him and Catherine McCormack (uncredited)
Reprised a cappella by Kathy Burke (uncredited)
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Play's significance lost on filmakers
27 August 2001 | by asizerSee all my reviews

What distinguishes stage from screen? If a viewer had only Brian Friel's play, `Dancing at Lughnasa' and its cinematic adaptation to judge from, he or she might be tempted to answer that, while stage is highly engaging and meaningful, screen is superficial, insulting, and thin in content. Friel's play is structured in such a way that a film version necessarily provides a fascinating comparison of the two mediums. However, director Pat O'Connor's efforts tend to demonstrate the weaknesses of cinema rather than the strengths. Adapting a play to the screen has often proved to be a tricky business; it involves some pitfalls which this film does not manage to avoid.

Screen is extremely literal. It allows for--in fact, often demands-- a sense of realism seldom conveyed on stage. The makers of `Dancing at Lughnasa' are clearly appreciative of this fact, and have made valiant, if not always successful, allowances for it. The primary result of their efforts is a heightened sense of setting. The world these characters inhabit feels real. We get shot after shot of Irish countryside; set and costume design seem perfect for Ireland in the 1930s. Mark Geraghty's production design is one of the best things about this film. Additionally, excellent accent work by all the actors proves perfectly convincing and adds depth to the setting.

However, such a literal medium has its drawbacks. In particular, young Michael's narration, which was used to achieve a specific effect in the play, seems unnecessary here. The play's Michael is full-grown and speaks young Michael's lines as his `memories' take place in the action on stage. The film makers did well to recognize that there was no cinematic equivalent for this; having the adult narrator speak the child's lines would have seemed ridiculous. However, in removing that aspect of the narrator's role, they stripped away most of his significance, as well. The film's narrator seems like an afterthought, occasionally intruding into the action to tell us that what we are seeing is a memory. We could easily forget that the events are, in fact, happening in flashback.

While some of the abstract elements of Friel's original play do not translate well onto the screen, individual performances are only aided by the medium. Since film is not hindered by the simple vocal requirements of stage, the actors are able to convey much more subtlety of meaning. The players in this film version are, without exception, excellent. Meryl Streep stands out as the proper, reserved Kate. Her manner is nervous and slightly shrill, but conveys genuine concern for her sisters. When Kate opens up and allows herself to dance, Streep shows a joyful abandon which is believable and pleasant to see. Another standout performance is delivered by Michael Gambon in the role of Father Jack. His lines are spoken with calm assurance, betraying Jack's senility only by their complete lack of relevance. Gambon's distant eyes and quiet detachment reinforce the feeling that he exists in a world entirely different from the rest of the family, a point which is absolutely crucial to his character. Supporting characters are also portrayed dead-on. This film has some of the best acting that could have been hoped for.

Despite these considerable advantages, the movie runs into trouble when it tries to adapt Friel's plot to the screen. Film is so much more visual than theater that it demands a great deal of variation in order to keep the viewer interested. Since we do not have the benefit of the actors' physical presence, we need other things to hold our attention. In attempting to add variety to the play's structure, screenwriter Frank McGuinness breaks up Friel's original dialogue into smaller scenes, most of which involve household chores. McGuinness also tries to represent some events which the play's dialogue only alludes to. The result is a film which is so fragmented that we lose sight its content. Friel's dialogue is integrally important to his play, and the same is true for the film. However, the way that the film breaks up this dialogue among tiny scenes is extremely distracting. We lose sight not only of the dialogue's meaning, but of the relationships between characters. Since the adapted structure requires that the five sisters rarely appear in the same scene together, it is very difficult to get any sense of the dynamic in the household. Ultimately, so much time is spent with action rather than dialogue that the characters lose a great deal of their depth. Perhaps film makers did not trust their audience to be as interested in the characters as in the events.

It is somewhat unjust to evaluate an adapted play simply in light of the original. However, this cinematic version fails to hold up even on its own terms. It is difficult to conceive what value those who have not been exposed to the original play could see in this adaptation. What we get is a good-looking, but ultimately insubstantial, portrait of five women who could all stand to let their hair down a little bit more than they do. I can't help but think that Friel had more in mind than demonstrating the value of letting one's hair down.


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