It’s been almost ten years since Irish director Thaddeus O’Sullivan was behind a film camera; The December Bride and Nothing Personal director is back with this charming drama that is finally receieving a wider release and is now in selected cinemas nationwide.
Although the plot sounds like an Irish Cinema Paradiso Stella Days is definitely its own beast. Giddy at the prospect that his time in this isolated Tipperary parish is coming to a close, and he can return to Rome to continue his studies, the already-packed Father Daniel Barry (Martin Sheen) is happy to trawl through the thick snow to comfort an old woman whom, we find out later, calls on him to administer the last rites for any ailment. Disaster strikes, however, when the bishop (Tom Hickey) delays his transfer indefinitely and encourages Daniel to raise funds for the new church to keep him busy. Struggling to find passion for the project, both in himself and the townsfolk’s wallets, movie enthusiast Daniel gets the idea to open a cinema with the proceeds going to the church fund. But Ireland of 1956 is not ready for such ‘filth’ and uptight politician Stephen Rea demands its immediate closure...
On the cusp of change anyway, the introduction of the cinema and its ‘outside values’ hastens a subtle transformation in the town. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they turn a blind eye to single mum Molly’s (Marcella Plunkett) dalliance with lodger Tim (Trysten Gravelle), as her largely absent husband is a foul-mouthed brute.
Once again, Sheen delivers a captivating performance but then he had Antoine O’Flatharta’s delightful character, adapted from Michael Doorly’s novel, to work with. A deeply conflicted character, Daniel is outwardly a caring and happy person, but inside he harbours a deep resentment for being passed over for a plush job in the Vatican library, and would see himself to be intellectually superior to the townsfolk.
The era is beautifully realised. In the time where electric cookers are dealt with suspicion, as Amy Huberman’s saleswoman finds out, and a light bulb receives the sign of the cross, Stella Days does the mature thing and doesn’t have too many jokes at the expense of the small-minded town, which would have been too easy.
Charming, let’s hope O’Sullivan doesn’t leave it as long again.