Way out the end of the Beara peninsula, filming is coming to an end of an adaptation of Deirdre Purcell's novel, Falling For A Dancer. Due to screen in the spring in four one-hour episodes, and directed by Richard Standeven (Cracker, Ballykissangel), it's a co-operative production between RTE, BBC Northern Ireland and Parallel Films. West Cork might be Big Fella country, but producer Peter Norris says with relief, "What I love about this series is that there's not a mention of history or troubles." The story? Thundering melodrama. West Cork, 1930s. Girl gets pregnant, is banished to violent, abusive marriage in Beara, raises a clatter of kids, has local young lad fall for her, eventually realises older moody neighbour on brooding, nearby hill is the real thing.
The lead role of Elizabeth is played by 22-yearold Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, who graduated from RADA this summer. "On this series, I've been through everything - childbirth, rape, love-making, beatings. The only thing I haven't done is die," she quips. Her father is Irish actor Dermot Walsh, who co-incidentally also starred in a film set in West Cork - Daphne du Maurier's Hungry Hill, which was shot at Allihies.
Other cast members include Liam Cunningham, whose first role was in Dermot Bolger's Lament For Arthur Cleary; Eleanor Methven, a founder member of Charabanc; and Dermot Crowley, who started out many years ago with the RTE Radio Rep. Making his debut appearance is 21-year-old Colin Farrell, from Dublin, who's about to return to the Gaiety School of Acting for his second year of training. Farrell may not yet have many credits to his name, but he has buckets of enthusiasm, and the advantage of being exceptionally easy on the eye. Expect a following.
Falling For A Dancer has the unusual luxury of being shot almost entirely on location in some of the remotest parts of West Cork, with filming at Claonach, Eyeries, Kilcatherine. Castletownbere is the base. The single biggest problem encountered during filming? "The logistics of getting to the locations," reports Norris. One hairy jeep-trip to Claonach later and it's easy to see what he means. Claonach lies a couple of miles at the end of a narrow track composed almost entirely of that dying breed, the pothole. To the left, stark mountain, populated only by a few sheep with a liking for the kamikaze existence. To the right, a vertical drop to the cold blue Atlantic. It is a gorgeous and tough-looking place at the same time, sort of Bord Failte scenery with attitude.
One of the reasons the place was chosen is that it is bereft of that weapon beloved by electoral candidates, the telegraph pole. Up to 70 families used to live here, now there are only two foreign part-time residents, both of whom have scarpered for the duration. There is still no electricity and the film's generator is hiding in a haystack in Elizabeth's farmyard. The weather has been wilfully stubborn. "We had to use rain machines for some scenes," Norris confesses, as he stares ruefully up at the bellying grey sky.
Back in Castletownbere, at the Beara Bay Hotel, they're shooting the last day of the dancehall scenes. Old time band, The Dixies, are pounding out their stuff. It's a complicated scene to choreograph. There are over 100 extras sweating with exertion under the barrage of lights, not all of whom are naturally nimble of foot. Off camera, dance coach Tommy McCarthy stands with arms outstretched on a table, silently conducting his dancers through The Stack Of Barley as if they were waves of the sea. "Don't be shy to find your partners," he hollers between takes. "If it was pints of Guinness on offer, you wouldn't be long claiming them."
The Beara Bay Hotel has been closed for business for some years. For the production team, it has given them the happy chance of being able to shoot several of the film's interior scenes under one roof. Anyone who's ever stayed there in the past would experience both a weird sense of deja vu and bewilderment wandering around the hotel now. There are cables eeling everywhere, down the stairs and along the corridors. Glance in one door and you see built-in 1970s wardrobes, sad nylon carpets and chipboard headboards. Look in another and it's a 1930s parlour, all oil-lamps and antimacassars, where the lace curtains at the windows have been "distressed" to appear old. The smell of damp that commutes between rooms and decades is authentic and probably the only free addition to the set in this £3.5 million production.
At Eyeries, more tricks. All aerials had to be removed, as well as the offensive telegraph poles. The local petrol pump was swaddled in a plaster-of-Paris Celtic Cross. Six weeks of preparation for two days filming in the village. Norris reckons they shoot on average four minutes of film a day. Half the Disney-coloured village was painted grey for a period look. Painting had to be postponed until judging of the Tidy Towns Competition had taken place in September. Every time it rained, they had to paint the grey back. Like Cuchulainn fighting the invulnerable waves, they did this over and over again - six times in total.