“The Banshees of Inisherin”: grief and isolation

In Film & Series 31 January, 2023

Gian Giacomo Stiffoni

Gian Giacomo Stiffoni


Martin McDonagh‘s latest work, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), marked his return to Venice’s Lido five years after his unforgettable Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The Irish director returns to his roots and reunites the pair of protagonists (both Irish) from his first film In Bruges. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (both exceptional) play Padraic and Colm respectively, two old friends living on the fictional island of Inisherin off the west coast of Ireland. It is 1923, and the country is experiencing the civil war for independence, but what is happening outside the isolated environment of Inisherin seems to be taking place far away, with the noise and smoke of some distant explosions only momentarily disrupting the lives of the island’s inhabitants. It could be the same for the lives of Padraic and Colm, but it is not.

Almas en pena de Inisherin

Kerry Condon in a scene from The Banshees of Inisherin © Jonathan Hession. 2022. 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Colm, a fiddler and composer of folk songs linked to the Irish tradition, suddenly decides to put an end to the friendship. Padraic does not understand the reason for such an action and with his simple-minded character objects, causing an ever more intransigent attitude on the part of his former friend. Nor is the presence of Padraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), of any help; she is an educated woman who with difficulty accepts life in a community that seems to repeat day after day the same life and customs and which she feels hopelessly alien to her.

The consequences of the confrontation will lead to a radical transformation of Padraic who, together with Colm, will be both victim and architect of a series of acts caused by a deep-rooted inability to change and understand the needs of others, as well as her own. The same goes for the young son of the island’s violent policeman (a superb Barry Keoghan) who also falls prey to his mental retardation.

McDonagh’s film again depicts a claustrophobic environment, which seems to have violence as its only escape. The Irish coastline, its rough country walls that define the fields and open out to sea, despite its wide visual breathing space, is in reality a labyrinth from which nothing and no one can escape, and where something as impalpable as the spirit of a seemingly imperceptible evil lives. McDonagh embodies it superbly in the magnificent figure of an old witch of the island, Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton) who foresees dire futures and is in fact the personification of one of the Banshees (Gaelic for “fairy woman”) of the title, a legendary female evil figure of Irish lore who appears to humans only when they are close to death.

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The Banshees of InisherinBarry KeoghanBrendan GleesonMartin McDonaghKerry CondonColin Farrell

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