Saoirse Ronan will win actress Ifta – unless a meteorite hits Dublin

Thursday’s Irish Film and Television Awards mark a strong year for Irish cinema

Saoirse Ronan, will win for ‘Lady Bird’.  Reuters/Mike Blake

Saoirse Ronan, will win for ‘Lady Bird’. Reuters/Mike Blake

 

The Irish Film and Television Awards have had a torrid time of it over the last few awards seasons. Four years ago, after a ceremony swollen with technical bloopers, the gongs looked to be teetering on the edge of oblivion.

In 2015, the show – tighter, less white-knuckle – didn’t happen until May 25th. (Any later and it could apply for admission to the following year’s awards season.) But the Ifta people have stuck at it and got themselves back into the frame.

The following two years the show passed off without any disasters in a tolerable early April slot. In 2016, President Higgins got to deliver Liam Neeson’s “set of skills” speech from Taken to the man himself. There were few other earth-shattering triumphs. But nobody fell down a manhole either. The show has become nippy and efficient.

In 2018, Ifta finds itself back in the heart of awards season. Deirdre O’Kane, sharp and reactive in earlier years, hosts a ceremony that comes just a few days before Bafta and three weeks before the Academy Awards.

Given that it won’t be providing Oscarologists with any meaningful pointers to those gongs, the bash feels like a happy diversion from the more ferocious battles happening overseas. Sprint up the red carpet outside the Mansion House – the downside to the February slot is that we’re back in the depths of winter – and enjoy an evening of home-spun backslapping.

The awards have not totally escaped the controversies raging in the wider cineverse. There was some consternation when, a few weeks ago, it was confirmed that only three actors had been nominated for best actress in a motion picture. Just two of those – Anne Skelly and Sarah Bolger – were mentioned for performances in domestic films.

The third, one Saoirse Ronan, will win for Lady Bird if no meteorites demolish Dublin 2. This happens following a year that saw the three highest grossing films in the US feature female leads. Awkward!

Elsewhere, the awards confirmed a strong – if not quite effervescent – year in Irish cinema. Any one of the six features nominated for best film could win, and any one of those would deserve the honour.

Mark O’Connor’s Cardboard Gangsters is a gritty Dublin crime drama. John Butler’s Handsome Devil is a touching coming-of-age drama with added rugby. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a searing existential horror.

John Connors in ‘Cardboard Gangsters’
John Connors in ‘Cardboard Gangsters’

Aisling Walsh’s Maudie stars a superb Sally Hawkins as Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis. Frank Berry’s Michael Inside is a powerful, strikingly acted study of crime and punishment from west Dublin. Pat Collins’s Song of Granite makes monochrome study of Connemara singer Joe Heaney.

There’s quality and variety in that list. Honest Don is offering the narrowest odds on Maudie. But Honest Don doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about here.

Colin Farrell, nominated for Sacred Deer, joins Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, mentioned for Maze, in the acting race. The charismatic John Connors is up for Cardboard Gangsters. Younger actors Dafhyd Flynn and Fionn O’Shea complete the five for, respectively, Michael Inside and Handsome Devil.

Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins in ‘Maudie’, directed by Aisling Walsh
Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins in ‘Maudie’, directed by Aisling Walsh
Colin Farrell, nominated for ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’
Colin Farrell, nominated for ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

Given the local connection, we can safely assume that Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – currently second favourite at the Oscars – will take best international picture. In the best international actress race, Sally Hawkins competes against herself for Maudie and The Shape of Water. But Frances McDormand, Oscar front-runner, will surely walk that for Three Billboards.

Following the conflagrations a few years ago, Ifta has broken up its awards in eccentric fashion. The current ceremony deals with film and TV drama. The popular hairy series Vikings is all over those nominations. Striking Out and Irish bits of Peaky Blinders also figure.

One downside of the relocation to awards season proper is that some of the top-flight actors will be busy shaking hands with voters in warmer parts of southern California. Those reporters freezing on Dawson Street will need to know their rugby players from their reality-television stars.

But Ifta can count on the presence of Gabriel Byrne. The Irish actor will be at the Mansion House to receive the Academy’s lifetime achievement award. If there is a nicer man in show business then I have yet to meet him. We salute the Gabe.

Frances McDormand in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’
Frances McDormand in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’