Sloppy and sentimental, Kings is soaked in whiskey and nostalgia. So it's not surprising that its aging, remorseful Irish émigrés, attending a wake in a London pub, would rekindle their bond over a sodden rendition of "Danny Boy." Adapting Jimmy Murphy's play, The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, writer-director Tom Collins attempts to mix a heady cocktail when a nice pint of stout would do.
In opening up the play, Collins makes some ambitious decisions. He creates a visual contrast between their pastoral past and urban present, portraying the peninsula of Connemara on Ireland's west coast in the vibrant colors of fevered memory, and a bustling, multicultural London as washed-out and impersonal. But the biggest change is that the five men mourning Jackie (Seán Ó Tarpaigh) converse among themselves primarily in Irish Gaelic.
Maintaining the Irish language was one of the credos of this tightly knit group when they left Connemara in 1977, but, 30 years later, their insularity is a liability. The prosperous Joe (Colm Meaney) believes in assimilation, and used his construction experience to build a successful contracting firm, one that has few Irish employees.
Shay (Donncha Crowley) owns a vegetable stall and has a settled family life, yet dreams of going "home," even though he's spent more of his life in England than Ireland. Still living hand to mouth are Jap (Donal O'Kelly) and Git (Brendan Conroy), who share a cheap apartment they can barely afford since drinking has taken precedence over working.
Collins has no problem with the stereotype of Irishmen as smooth-talking drunks with a guilty conscience. Jap and Git are the group's sad-eyed clowns, but Máirtín (Barry Barnes) is more sobering: after giving up alcohol, he insists on properly toasting Jackie's memory, even if it means the dissolution of his marriage.
Kings has everything in place for a good catharsis, but Collins keeps throwing these men off-balance, as if they're back on a hooker off the Atlantic coast, but have forgotten how to sail. The wobbly, handheld camerawork makes their intense, emotional encounters feel shaky, and choppy editing impedes the narrative flow.
Throughout, Jackie haunts his friends like the ghost of St. Patrick's Day past, appearing to each as a manifestation of their personal failures. Collins prefers fatalism to resolution, weighing down these already burdened men with the longing for an Ireland that disappeared once they left its shores.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22, and at 4 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 23. Call 313-833-3237.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.