King of the Travellers
Film Title: King of the Travellers
Director: Mark O'Connor
Starring: Michael Collins, John Connors, Carla McGlynn, Peter Coonan
Running Time: 80 min
You certainly can’t fault Mark O’Connor for ambition. The young Irish director’s follow-up to the noisy, brilliantly shot Between the Canals quotes The Godfather, Romeo and Juliet and On the Waterfront as it seeks to tell a mildly epic story of warring Traveller families.
So promiscuous are the allusions that one begins to imagine references where none exist. The finest scene in the picture, a drug-enhanced ride through spooky woods, seems to have sprung from the loins of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist . Another sequence accidentally nods towards Easy Rider .
This is a dangerous game. On occasions, this problematic picture lives up to its inspirations. More often, the visual and verbal quotes, by offering unflattering comparisons, highlight the overly busy storytelling, outbreaks of sentimentality and jarringly uneven acting.
King of the Travellers begins with John Paul Moorhouse (John Connors) remembering the murder of his father by the rival Power clan. A decade or so later, Uncle Francis (reliable veteran Michael Collins) has taken control of a family that is still embroiled in that damaging feud.
When John Paul triumphs in a bare-knuckle fight with the Powers’ champion, he encounters young Winnie Power (Carla McGlynn), once a childhood friend, and sets out on a perilous relationship. Mad, wild-haired Mickey the Bags (Peter Coonan), an adopted Moorhouse, takes on the role of a rougher Mercutio.
It is for the Travelling community to decide whether the picture’s focus on boozing, fighting and swearing risks reinforcing negative stereotypes. The film-makers can, with some justification, point out that most of the actors are Travellers and that the film brims with research into their mores, legends and linguistic eccentricities. It is also worth noting that a Satanic settled family in the film, the Lafferty mob, make the other clans seem like models of propriety and good sense.
O’Connor shoots with great urgency and unstoppable invention. That chemically-charged night ride is a tour de force of weirdness. The fights are indecently visceral and messy. Unfortunately, too many of the amateur actors (the oldest in particular) come across as, well, plain amateurish. As Gerard Barrett demonstrated in his superior Pilgrim Hill , it takes skill to coax non-professionals towards naturalistic performances.
Still, there is enough here for us to confirm O’Connor as a talent for the future. Rough stuff.