Irish Film
English 3483

This course is an introduction both to native Irish culture and the culture of the Irish diaspora via the medium of film. Students will study, among other things, the impact that Hollywood has had on the image of the Irish in the popular imagination. Directors and producers such as John Ford, Walt Disney, David Lean and Robert O'Flaherty helped to create an image of Ireland that was often romanticized and unintentionally comic. Students will also view and deconstruct the films of high realist auteurs such as Jim Sheridan, Neil Jordan, and Joel and Ethan Coen. The image of the Irish, both at home and abroad, conveyed by these auteurs breaks free of decades of racial stereotyping. Finally, students will examine the art of adaptation of novels, short stories and plays to the big screen. Among the writers considered will be James Joyce, Frank O'Connor, Liam O'Flaherty, Eugene O'Neil, William Trevor, John B. Keane, Jennifer Johnston, John McGahern, Irving Welsh, Brian Friel and Roddie Doyle.


This section of the course is designed to study native Irish culture and the culture of the Irish diaspora through the medium of film. The critical approach is primarily deconstructionist and post-colonial.


Mostly lecture, question and answer. Students will view films in and out of class time. In-class viewing will focus primarily on DVD (Digital Video Disc) scene to scene and shot to shot analysis of montage, mise en scene, script/dialogue, and audience response.


Two papers 50%
Class Mark 10%
Final exam 40%

Required Texts

Cassell Film Guide: the companion to British and Irish Cinema
Long Days Journey Into Night
by Eugene O'Neill
Cal by Bernard McLaverty
"Guest of the Nation" by Frank O'Connor
"The Dead" by James Joyce
"Korea" by John McGahern

Selected Filmography

Man of Aran by Robert Flaherty
The Informer by John Ford
The Searchers by John Ford
The Quiet Man by John Ford
Darby O'Gill and the Little People by Walt Disney
Long Days Journey Into Night (Canadian Production)
Ryan's Daughter by David Lean
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid by Sam Peckinpah
Once Upon A Time In the West by Sergio Leone
One Man's Hero by Lance Hool
My Left Foot by Jim Sheridan
In the Name of the Father by Jim Sheridan
The Field by Jim Sheridan
The Boxer by Terry George
Mona Lisa by Neil Jordan
The Crying Game by Neil Jordan
Michael Collins by Neil Jordan
The Butcher Boy by Neil Jordan
The Dead by John Huston
Miller's Crossing by Joel and Ethan Coen
Dancing At Lughnasa by Pat O'Connor
Cal by Pat O'Connor
Waking Ned Devine
Korea by Cathal Black
Pigs by Cathal Black
Poitin by Bob Quinn

Selected Bibliography

Cinema and Ireland by Kevin Rockett
Heathcliff and the Great Hunger by Terry Eagleton
The Course of Irish History by Martin and Moody
The Commitments by Roddie Doyle
The Van by Roddie Doyle
A History of Narrative Film by David Cook
The Eagleton Reader by Stephen Regan
Ronald Regan, the Movie by Michael Rogin
Black Face, White Noise by Michael Rogin
Legacy of Conquest by Patricia Nelson Limerick
Something in the Soil by Patricia Nelson Limerick
The Fatal Environment by Richard Slotkin
Gunfighter Nation by Richard Slotkin
The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature by Robert Welsh
Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said
A Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thompson
John Ford by Tag Gallager
Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdonovich
"Into Which West: Irish Modernity and the Maternal Supernatural" by Joe Cleary

Course Description

James Joyce was the first prominent Irish writer to recognize the narrative power of film, his attempts, however, to introduce the cinematic art to Ireland early in the twentieth century were unsuccessful. Joyce had to be content with cinematic borrowing in his fiction: the "Nighttown" episode of Ulysses, and the stream of consciousness technique itself were self-consciously cinematic, so much so that they drew young Sergei Eisenstein to Paris in the 1920's to visit the self-exiled Irishman. The image of native Irish and the Irish of the diaspora has been a staple of film almost from its inception. Although Robert Flaherty--long considered one of the founders of documentary film--produced his classic and controversial work Man of Aran in 1934, the dominant figure in the portrayal of "the Irish" and Irish/American on film in the twentieth century has been Sean Aloysius O'Feeney of Portland, Maine, better known, of course, by his Hollywood alias of John Ford. Ford's adaptation of the modern Irish classic The Informer (1935) by Liam O'Flaherty's became one of the most highly regarded films of the decade, winning unanimously the New York Critics Award for Best film of the Year and four awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among them best director and best screenplay. Famous for his westerns and for establishing the career of John Wayne, Ford was also-- almost single handedly-- responsible for the perpetuation of a sentimental stereotype of the Irish people both at home and abroad. This stereotype reached its zenith with The Quiet Man in 1952. The immediate impact of this film on popular culture, and the image of the Irish, was second only to Walt Disney's 1950's leprechaun epic, Darby O'Gill and the Little People. (There is a more complex--if darker side-- to Ford, especially in a film like The Searchers where the captivity narrative with its concomitants of race, genocide and ethnocide, hold centre stage. A strong Irish-American presence--not always enabling--can be found in most of Ford's treatment of the "Myth of Frontier", the one great exception is Cheyenne Autumn (1964), a late (too late) apology for his lifelong racist portrayal of Native Americans.

The Irish would have to wait almost two decades before Hollywood produced a major film that finally debunked these stereotypes, even as it created new ones. David Lean's spectalce, Ryan's Daughter (1970) is the great English director's view of the Irish Revolution. With a few notable exceptions, such as Sidney Lumet's adaptation of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires,(1968), Sergio Leone's, Once Upon A Time in the West and Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, the image of the Irish did not fair well in Hollywood "cinema" until the1980's and 90's.

The present small r "renaissance" of feature films produced and directed In Ireland is due largely to the work of two directors: Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan. These two auteurs have produced such internationally acclaimed films as Mona Lisa, The Field, My Left Foot, Michael Collins and The Crying Game. Among other things, all of these films reflect, illustrate and provide background for, the Irish Literary Renaissance of the twentieth century. The great nationalist poems of W.B. Yeats such as "Easter 1916", "The Second Coming", "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz", "Lapis Lazuli" and the poems from The Tower collection give a deeper understanding and a context to Neil Jordan's Michael Collins. Similarly, John McGahern's novel Amongst Women along with the short stories of Mary Lavin, William Trevor, Daniel Corkery and George Moore provide the background for films like The Field, Some Mother's Son and My Left Foot. Jordan's film The Crying Game is both a direct adaptation of Frank O'Conor's "Guests of the Nation" and a commentary on contemporary Irish concerns about race, politics and sexuality. The poetry of Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon and Paul Durcan provide a context for films such as In the Name of the Father, Some Mother's Son, The Boxer and Butcher Boy. Furthermore, the reception, the audience response, to films like In the Name of the Father and Michael Collins highlight the continuing post colonial unease of country's like Britain and Canada as they attempt to grapple with "the Irish Question" in the wake of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.

A significant number of novels, short stories and plays have also been successfully adapted by both Irish and non-Irish directors. Some of these works include James Joyce's "The Dead" adapted by John Huston, Brian Moore's The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Roddie Doyle's, The Commitments and The Van, Jennifer Johnston's Shadows on Our Skins, John McGahern's short story "Korea" adapted by Cathal Black, Bernard MacLaverty's Cal and, most recently, David Hare's The Judas Kiss ( a play about the life of Oscar Wilde ) and Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa adapted by the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness and directed by Pat O'Connor.

Although the old and the new (read violent) "stage Irish" stereotypes survive in entertainment cinema, e.g. Far and Away and Patriot Games, there is also a move on the part of the New World to portray the people of the world's largest diaspora with something approaching authenticity. The most notable of these works include Miller's Crossing (1990) by Joel and Ethan Coen and a new Canadian adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (1997). Finally, there are the Irish film makers who work, or try to work, outside of the Hollywood feature network. Like us in Canada the Irish film "industry" began in television with great auteur and documentary directors such as Bob Quinn. Young Irish film makers such as Cathal Black, Margo Harkin and others struggle with small budgets to produce what many argue is Ireland's most authentic cinema. Their names, of course, as with most art house and documentary film makers, are not widely known outside of Ireland. As with all indigenous cinema, the politics of distribution remains the universal handicap.


The objectives of this course are to provide the student with the cultural, historical, political and artistic perspectives necessary for deconstructing the history of Irish and Irish diaspora film. Students should come away from this course with, among other things, an understanding of the basic techniques and styles of cinema; an understanding of the cultural and political implications of film as a medium; an ability to distinguish between film as art and film as entertainment/propaganda; a knowledge of the central historical facts of modern Ireland and an understanding of the impact of the Irish diaspora; finally, students will be made aware of the unique and continuing interplay between the written word and film.

Stewart Donovan's Homepage
ENGL 3426 Modern Irish Literature
ENGL 3563 Film and Narrative I
ENGL 3573 Film and Narrative II
ENGL 3623 The Literature of Politics

English / Faculty / STU Homepage