The new film Lakelands has its London premiere this Friday, St Patrick’s Day.
Lakelands is the story of Cian, a GAA player from a small town in Longford.
When Cian is attacked on a night out, he can no longer play football which is such a big part of who he is.
Lakelands is the debut feature from writer/ director team Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney who are both from Granard, Co. Longford.
Éanna Hardwicke, recognisable from Normal People and Smother, plays the lead role while Danielle Galligan (Netflix’s Shadow and Bone) plays Grace who returns to the town after years away.
Havin reconnected with Grace, Cian feels she is the only person he can really talk to.
Robert Higgins told The Irish World where the idea came from.
“We (Patrick and I) would have grown up together and we always thought that our town had a lot of stories and a lot of characters and a lot of things that were unique about it.
“We always thought it would be interesting to depict that cinematically.
“We grew up playing Gaelic football and we always felt there wasn’t really a depiction of that.
“It pops up in slight appearances here and there in films, but there’s never been one that really in detail looks at the culture around it and the rituals and demands and the pressures, so we wanted to really dig into that.
“The story we deal with here, it’s something we’ve dealt with a lot.
“A lot of our friends would be very involved in it and have a lot of identity wrapped up in it, but it can be quite a fleeting thing so then it can leave you at a crossroads when you are defined by it at certain points, and then things change.”
Patrick McGivney adds: “I suppose coming from the Midlands, it’s definitely somewhere that’s underrepresented in terms of film and cinema, and it also gets misrepresented in the national media.
“There’s all these kind of negative news stories around it and I suppose that’s not the world we know.
“We have our own kind of unique culture here the same way the south does, and the West does, Dublin and the north.
“I suppose we always just felt that it had never been depicted accurately from our perspective, and we wanted to write a story and make a film that was from our perspective, and this was told as a story within the Midlands, told by Midlanders.
“I suppose that was a real kind of driver for us.”
GAA is so central to Irish culture but apart from the 1987 film Clash of the Ash and the 2001 RTE series On Home Ground, there have not been too many screen interpretations of the sport apart from a Normal People cameo and the recent Irish language film subplot Róise & Frank.
Incidentally Gary Lydon, who appeared in On Home Ground, plays a coach in Lakelands. The supporting cast is completed by Irish World award winner Lorcan Cranitch who plays Cian’s father.
“I played senior football for 12 years,” Patrick says.
“I think when you’re trying to depict the world that you know quite well, it can come a little bit more naturally than if you hadn’t kind of lived it.
“Our cameraman Simon Crowe is a big six foot two hulk of a cameraman, and he just straps on a camera and basically just runs around the pitch after the players and it gives it that kind of feeling.
“We wanted to depict that training session as accurately as possible, and you need to be in the action to do that.”
The GAA scenes were shot at their local club, St Mary’s in Granard.
“It’s a lot of our mates,” Robert says. “They all came out and got stuck in the action, we called in the old favours.”
While Patrick says he played for 12 years, Robert gave it up when he got to senior.
“Rob saw sense and I didn’t,” Patrick says.
“I stuck with it for a decade after, flogging a dead horse at times.
“It’s so ingrained in the community, and it does become a part of your identity.
“I think whole towns and villages become defined by their team and how well they do and that kind of filters down the levels and you grow up idolising the senior team and then you get there and you want to emulate what previous teams did.
“It can become quite an insular place and there’s an obsessive element to it because you train so much and you have to give up weddings and parties.
“There’s a lot of positives in it as well, because you’re filled with pride of place and that sense of brotherhood and community but then that can become a tricky thing when you are on the verge of retiring and you don’t realise that your whole identity is kind of wrapped up in it.
“I think I can relate to the character of Cian more this year since I hung up the boots than maybe when we were actually shooting it.”
Lakelands shows the players being nagged by their coaches and other people in the community about going out and drinking.
Patrick says: “It’s a strange dynamic at times because you look at other sports and there is a drinking culture and it’s healthy, and it’s normal and accepted.
“Whereas in Ireland, it’s almost like, ‘We can’t trust you to just have few pints because you won’t be seen for two days’.
“I think a lot of footballers don’t get that release as a result of that, because they can’t go to the pub because they’d be seen having a pint, that they’d be judged.
“And if you lose next week, then it could be the talk of the town.
“It is that real insular, obsessive kind of bubble.
“It’s all great when you’re winning but when you’re not winning games and things aren’t going well, that’s when it kind of turns on you.”
Although Cian is hurt on a night out, concussion has long been a concern in GAA and other sports.
Patrick says: “We became a lot more informed on the topic speaking with people who had suffered concussions.
“We’re lucky enough to never have suffered one, but there were guys in our club who had and then we spoke to Laurie Ryan, former Clare ladies captain and just understanding her journey and the confusion and the difficulty she had in articulating what her work tasks were, never mind what her symptoms were.
“It’s a really confusing injury at times, and I suppose the impact that has on your mental health is something that we wanted to highlight to a small extent through Cian’s journey.
“I think that was kind of one of the main motivations for depicting those symptoms and that injury.”
Éanna Hardwicke shared the screen with Paul Mescal in Normal People but he did not quite have the same GAA grounding as the former Kildare Under 20 captain.
Robert says: “What was great about Éanna is he had a great body of work already.
“You could see a great versatility in his work.
“That was kind of essential for Cian because he goes through a lot of different emotions in the film, and he’s in practically every scene so it’s a huge undertaking.
“As soon as we met him, he was really positive, he was excited about it and he was coming with ideas and he was ready to dive in.
“We just knew right away that he was he was perfect for it.
“One thing he had to do was go back and play GAA for six weeks, that was an undertaking for him.”
Patrick continues: “He had played as a young boy so it was a relatively big ask to go back and get back into that world.
“He joined Clan Na Gael in Ringsend for six weeks.
“It was as much about getting to understand that culture as it was about getting to know the game again.
“He did an exceptional job and there’s moments in the film where he does look like a really good footballer and maybe that’s clever editing or maybe that’s the fact that Éanna did put the work in.
“He just threw himself into everything.
“He put it all on his shoulders and carried the film from minute one to minute 100.”
The theme of emigration comes up in Grace’s story. Back to look after her sick father, Cian asks her if she would ever come back to which she replies she thinks she is ‘gone too long’. Similarly, she asks Cian why he never left.
Robert says: “It’s just something that’s really been a big part of our generation so we wanted to kind of explore it a little bit.
“It’s a classic theme in Irish literature and plays so I guess we wanted to put a bit of a modern lens on it.
“I suppose a big part of Grace’s story is her conflicted feelings about home, and I guess she’s rediscovering it a little bit through her friendship with Cian, but still struggling to bridge the gap and the distance.”
Patrick adds: “With Cian’s character I suppose we wanted to subvert that kind of archetype- almost like a stereotype of the guy who’s in a small town and mad to leave.
“We wanted it to depict a character that’s more true to life from our perspective, and that’s a guy who loves his hometown, loves his community, loves his job, is happy there and all he wants to do is hold on to that and has no yearning to leave, but then feels like he is judged by people that come back and look down on him for having never left and experienced other things.
“There is that interesting contrast between Cian and Grace because they feel like they’re judging each other but the reality is that both of them have experienced home in very different ways.
“Grace probably hasn’t had that positive experience and has gone out into the world searching for home and then Cian stayed at home, but he still finds himself searching for something outside of himself.
“We just found that we couldn’t really make a story about the Midlands without having emigration being a key theme because it’s true to life.”
Lakelands is in Irish and UK cinemas now.