McDonagh wins People’s Choice Award at Toronto film festival

The prize for London-Irish author’s film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ raises hopes for Oscar success

Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has unexpectedly won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The prize is seen as the most reliable early indicator of Oscar success.

Two years ago, Lenny Abrahamson's Room began its journey to a best picture nomination with a victory here.

In the last decade, only one People’s Choice winner has failed to secure a best picture nod from the Academy.

This is the third film from the London-Irish author following the much-admired In Bruges and the more controversial Seven Psychopaths.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Frances McDormand as a determined woman taking a stand against the police who failed to solve her daughter's murder.

McDormand is also now a strong favourite for an Oscar nomination.

“It’s never so funny that it’s not serious, but it’s never so serious that it’s not funny,” McDonagh said of the film.

"This time we had to make sure that it didn't tip over into humour, pure humour or silly humour. We had to keep the tragedy focused all the time." That description also fits acclaimed plays by McDonagh such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore or The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Three Billboards has received strong reviews since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, but it was seen as a less likely winner than Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water or Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.

Gerwig's autobiographical feature debut, starring Saoirse Ronan as an angry youth, was rapturously received and the Irish actor also looks set to have a busy awards season.

The Toronto International Film Festival now stands as, after Cannes, the second most important festival in the calendar. A range of Irish productions premiered this year to largely positive notices.

Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner, from Kilkenny's Cartoon Saloon, adapts a popular novel by Deborah Ellis concerning an Afghani girl who must disguise herself as a boy to support her family.

Cartoon Saloon has already received Oscar nominations for Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells. With Angelina Jolie on board as producer, The Breadwinner stands a good chance of replicating that success.

Two new Irish horror films, David Freyne's The Cured and Brian O'Malley's The Lodgers, opened at Toronto to approving shivers.

"Just when you thought nothing new could be done with the undead, The Cured pulls off a fresh take on zombie terrain," Variety said of Freyne's film.

Reviewing The Lodgers, that trade publication commented: "As a ripe chunk of pure baroque atmosphere, this lushly staged costume chiller is a fragrant beauty indeed."

Other Irish films premiering included Sophie Fiennes's Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Rebecca Daly's Good Favour and Aoife McCardle's Kissing Candice.

Oscar season’s phoney war has begun.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist