The kids aren't alright
With his new film, Lenny Abrahamson is once again shining a light on the dark side of Ireland’s capital. What Richard Did has less grime than Adam and Paul, but is just as unflinchingly honest, the director tells DONALD CLARKE
LENNY ABRAHAMSON may be 40-cough-ahem years old, but in the late-starting world of movies, he still probably counts as our most distinguished young film-maker. In 2004, then a little hairier than he is now, he delivered the signature domestic film of the decade with Adam and Paul. Part Beckettian nightmare, part Laurel-and-Hardy romp, the film – brilliantly scripted by Mark O’Halloran – followed two distracted heroin addicts as they pottered about an uninterested Dublin. It served to remind viewers that, even in those boom times, the city still swelled with the dispossessed.
Now, Lenny returns with a film that feels like a neat complement to that earlier work. What Richard Did concerns an achingly middle-class, rugby-playing youth whose suave life is disrupted following a violent altercation outside a South Dublin party. Lenny almost seems to be saying . . .
“Yes, yes . . .” he interrupts.
He’s heard this before. The film looks to be saying that, even in times of hardship, Dublin still harbours vast tracts of privilege.
“Do you know what? There is an awful lot of inertia in society,” Abrahamson says.
“Privilege existed before the Celtic Tiger. Maybe that made it worse. But in essence it didn’t change and it hasn’t changed since. Similarly, in boom times, poverty wasn’t really shifted. I wasn’t making any conscious effort to ‘do’ the middle classes. I tend to gravitate towards characters who do something that shifts their parameters. That’s what happens to Richard?”
Yes, indeed. Adapted by Malcolm Campbell from Kevin Power’s novel Bad Day in Blackrock, What Richard Did carries many allusions to the killing of Brian Murphy, a secondary-school student, outside Annabel’s nightclub in 2000. The film seems to deviate much more dramatically from the case than did Power’s book. The incident is more of a shadow in the film’s nether regions.
“That is exactly right. The book is fictionalised, but there are clear resonances with the Annabel’s case,” he says. “Some people say: ‘I take artistic license when dealing with a real case.’ I wanted complete license. Also I didn’t want to put people through more discussion of that case – though there is no way of avoiding the conversation we are having now. And that’s fair enough.”
Did he or his colleagues approach Brian Murphy’s family?
“No. We did debate whether we should approach people and tell them: ‘We are doing something very different.’ But we thought we didn’t have the right to do that. If we were actually going to make a film about Annabel’s, then we would have made sure to make contact.”
To do so would have been to imply more of a connection than he intended?
“Yes, exactly. Informally, by people who know people, I have been able to say: ‘This is not the Annabel’s film’.”
As Abrahamson explains, Irish film-makers – and their British counterpoints for that matter – have never been very comfortable dealing with the middle-classes. The spectre of Ross O’Carroll Kelly hangs over so much commentary on that sector of domestic society. A deeply serious film, shot in sombre shades, What Richard Did manages to avoid all those comic clichés. Played with disconcerting warmth by newcomer Jack Reynor, the eponymous protagonist comes across as confident, pampered and cosseted. But he is no sort of monster. Were it not for one moment of violent insanity, he could easily have ended up as a decent, responsible member of society.