Talking to my Father review: an efficient consideration of Irish modernism

Simon Walker, now a successful architect in his own right, as he delves into the story of his distinguished father Robin Walker

Talking to my Father
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Director: Sé Merry Doyle
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Simon Walker, Robin Walker
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

Here is a beautiful documentary by Sé Merry Doyle that offers an efficient consideration of Irish modernism and, perhaps accidentally, a few notes on the Fountainhead (as in Ayn Rand) strain in the architectural mindset. Employing slow pans and long takes that invite the structures to soak into the screen, Doyle accompanies Simon Walker, now a successful architect in his own right, as he delves into the story of his distinguished father Robin Walker. A student of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, the older Walker, partner in the influential Scott Tallon Walker practice, worked on such attractive buildings as the campus at Wellesley College and the O'Flaherty House in Kinsale Harbour.

Simon’s own script occasionally drifts towards bathos in the opening sections, but swiftly settles into a thoughtful, passionate rhythm. Discussions of the beautiful Bothar Bui house on the Beara Peninsula – ancient and modern in harmony – allow the film-makers to insinuate the family story in with meditations on professional challenges. Beginning in the late 1950s, Robin, a Protestant who embraced his wife’s Catholic heritage, found himself edging the still nascent State towards a thrusting future.

Talking to my Father is on shakier ground when it attempts to argue for the more uncompromising manifestations of modernism. For all Simon's passion, he fails to make a convincing case for the anonymously boxy Bord Fáilte headquarters at Baggot Street.

More amusing are his conversations with students of St Columba’s College about their striking science lab. When they complain that it is too hot in summer and too cold in the winter, he points outs that, once the first generation, properly trained to occupy a building, have passed, their successors often fail to operate the structure properly.


Ah yes. It’s not the architects’ fault. It’s down to the people who insist on living in or near the building in question.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

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