What Richard Did: sense and sensibility
A few months ago, What Richard Did director Lenny Abrahamson was one of the guests at a Banter session at the Earagail Arts Festival which looked at how Irish culture has dealt with the move from boom to bust in …
A few months ago, What Richard Did director Lenny Abrahamson was one of the guests at a Banter session at the Earagail Arts Festival which looked at how Irish culture has dealt with the move from boom to bust in the country. It was a fascinating chat with the panelists – Abrahamson was joined by Little John Nee, Róise Goan and Sinead Gleeson – running the rule over how different cultural sectors had approached the change in Irish society and why some were more reticent than others about addressing certain prevalent socio-economic issues. The director talked a little about the upcoming film, but it was clear even then that What Richard Did was coming from another angle entirely in capturing a certain Irish mood.
Some of you will already have seen the flick and most will be familiar with the plot about a young south county Dublin man whose privileged life takes an unexpected turn after a violent late-night altercation outside a party. There has been a bit of humming and hawing from the film-makers about the real-life inspiration for the film. What Richard Did is loosely based on Kevin Power’s “Bad Day In Blackrock”, which is itself loosely based on the assault on and killing of Brian Murphy outside the Burlington Hotel in August 2000. We know the real-life story so, when we see a plot play out in a certain way on the big screen, we make certain connections which the director knows we were always going to make. It may not be directly about those horrific events from over a decade ago, but it’s working from the same deck of circumstances and crimes.
There’s a lot of striking elements to Abrahamson’s work. As with his previous flick Adam & Paul, his protrayal of place is spot-on, capturing a milieu usually the stuff of caricature rather than such sharp characterisation. Richard Karlsen and his friends live the good life, a bunch of lotus-eaters living in a world where the stresses and strains of modern-day Ireland seem many miles away. When Richard talks about ambitions and plans, they’re to do with rugby and leisure. It’s a blissful, idle lifestyle delinated by broad brushstrokes of Hollister and Heineken.
But when conflict does arise in the shape of another young man, the ex-boyfriend of Richard’s new flame, he doesn’t quite know how to deal with it other than throw a strop. The moody, broody behaviour seems to have only one possible ending and that’s what goes down. A scuffle at a party leads to a death, an investigation and a cover-up.
What’s most absorbing about What Richard Did is how the denials, doubts and dread which ensue from that incident are dealt with and especially how Richard faces up to and deals with what has happened. The director and scriptwriter Malcolm Campbell ask all the right questions. Does he redeem himself? Does he seek to act responsibly? Or does he simply take refuge in a world where his life has already been plotted out from cradle to college to career to grave?
In many ways, the answers which the film come up with are not the most pressing concern here. It’s more about how we as as the audience who know these codes – or at least understand the lingo and lexicon – respond to how the story plays out. If we were forced to take a stand, which side of the tracks would we be on? It’s a slow-burning, dramatic piece of work from Abrahamson – and one which ultimately answers those questions about how artists tell the story of modern Ireland in a far clearer, sharper way than any panel discussion will.