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Ballywalter (Film Review) 

3 min read
Ballywalter

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movies being covered here wouldn't exist.

Affectionately referred to as “the arse end of nowhere” by 's caustic cab driver Eileen (, A Date for Mad Mary, Can't Cope Won't Cope), the titular Northern Irish village is more humdrum than happening.  

It may not boast the bright lights of nearby Belfast, but this sleepy townland is home to something much more wholesome: good old-fashioned human connection. In just an hour and a half, Ballywalter paints a full backstory for the two unlikely acquaintances. On Northern Ireland's Ards Peninsula is where we meet Eileen, sardonic media school drop-out, and Shane (, stand-up comedian), a slightly awkward man on the verge of divorce. The two are dangerously close to embarking on a downward spiral. 

In a former life, Eileen was making her own way in London, studying media at university. In a turn that is painfully accurate for the masses of twenty- and thirtysomethings that have had to return to adolescent box rooms, Eileen has moved back home.

Far from living her hashtag best life, Eileen works dead-end jobs while her heart remains in the big smoke. Perhaps the most uninterested taxi driver on the entire island, Eileen's death stares and sardonic put downs would give Robert DeNiro a run for his money. Her job as a cabbie is a result of desperation rather than vocation.  

Martyr Shane is a self-imposed exile: from his wife, daughter, and home. Now living in Ballywalter as a punishment for his domestic woes, he is enrolled in a 12-week comedy course in Belfast. To make life in the secluded village even harder, he is banned from driving for six months. Enter Eileen in her chariot, Toyah the Toyota Corolla. 

Seana Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter
EMPIRE STREET PRODUCTIONS

Kielty is fantastic in a role so far removed from his own funnyman personality, while Seana as always excels as the misunderstood freewheeling spirit. 

The setting in Ballywalter is as much a main character as our two car poolers. Filmed on location in Co. Down, the stunning Northern Irish landscape speaks volumes. Visually similar to Fargo and, more recently, The Banshees of Inisherin, the vast rural, barren terrain edges the character drama into dark comedy territory.     

As Eileen takes Shane on the 40-minute journey to his class, the two seem to barely tolerate each other. She can't understand why he would spend his time in laughter lessons. He doesn't see why she has to be a bitch. 

Despite a rocky start, their mutual respect blossoms throughout the duration of the film. Their growth is gorgeously understated on screen and makes a refreshing change from the jarring style of spoon feeding to the audience each character's every thought and emotion. 

Two characters bonding is hardly a new idea, but rarely is it done so well. Shane and Eileen are equally downbeat, so there is no convenient joker (sorry, Shane) to cheer up the straight man. Stacey Gregg's screenplay and Prasanna Puwanarajah's direction makes for a satisfying 90 minutes about the power of interpersonal relationships. It feels like the kind of reaction that only a low-budget, independent film can generate.  

 As the camera lingers on the Belfast mural of murdered journalist Lyra McKee, we see the words she wrote to her teenage self: 

 “It won't always be like this. It's going to get better.”  

At that message, a reminder that no pain is forever, you almost breathe a sigh of relief. The two protagonists will find the silver that lines the grey Ballywalter skies.  

Things will get better. Of that we can be sure. 

 

Ballywalter releases in cinemas on September 22nd 2023.