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Stella Days

Stella Days

Released 9 March 2012
Director Thaddeus O'Sullivan
Starring



Martin Sheen, Stephen Rae, Trystan Gravelle, Marcella Plunkett, Tom Hickey, Amy Huberman
Writer(s) Antoine Ó Flaharta
Producer(s) Jackie Larkin, Lesley McKimm, Maggie Pope
Origin Ireland
Running Time 89 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating  
59

Bittersweet.

Good old Martin Sheen. Is there a more warmly regarded actor around these days? In truth his career as a leading man fizzled out in the ‘70s after great turns in Badlands and Apocalypse Now. But he recovered from several personal problems to become a highly thought of character actor and he found his career role on TV in the multi-award winning The West Wing. It was the perfect role for Sheen especially as he’d long been a vocal political activist. With a mother from Ireland, Sheen has also been a prominent supporter of Irish issues in America. He even lived in Ireland for a while, studying in NUI Galway as a mature student.

He’s made a film in Ireland before, Hugh Leonards’s Da, and he returns for Stella Days, an adaptation of Michael Doorley’s novel. Set in the remote village of Borrisokane in Tipperary in 1956, Sheen plays Father Daniel Barry, the local parish priest who after three years is due to return back to Rome for an academic posting. Fr. Barry is a scholar and amateur filmmaker and he struggles with his mundane life in the small town. However Bishop Hegerty (Tom Hickey) has other ideas. Obsessed with building new churches, he sets Fr. Barry the task of raising the required funds for a new structure in the area. With the town largely impoverished, this is an extremely tough task and Fr. Barry organises the raffles half-heartedly.

Meanwhile a new schoolteacher Tim (Welsh actor Trystan Gravelle) has come to town where he’s lodging with Molly (Marcella Plunkett) and her son Joey (Joseph O'Sullivan). With his love of cinema and classical music, Fr. Barry meets a kindred spirit in Tim and they become friends. The local TD Brendan (Stephen Rea) is completely opposed to this attitude with his parochial fear and hatred of anything from ‘outsiders’. Brendan tries to set up Tim with Molly’s sister Elaine (Amy Huberman) but instead Tim and Molly become attracted to one another. Molly is married however, and even if her husband is largely absent, this is still enough to cause a scandal in the small town.

After a suggestion from Tim, Fr. Barry decides the best way to raise funds is to open a cinema in the town showing both educational films and new Hollywood releases. Brendan is stridently opposed to the new cinema however as he fears the ‘Hollywood Filth’ will corrupt the town. The scene is set for a battle of wills between the two men.

From looking at the promotional material for this, you could be forgiven for expecting a light-hearted, nostalgic comedy. However director Thaddeus O'Sullivan, who made possibly the grimmest film ever in December Bride, has other ideas. There is more of a melancholic tone and while there are some laughs they are few and far between. That’s not to say the film isn’t any good though, it is well made and well acted.

Sheen is particularly good in the main role as a priest who maintains an outward calm despite having doubts about his vocation. Rea channels the defiant ignorance of Eamon De Valera in his joyless politician and there is good support from Gravelle and Plunkett. However Antoine Ó Flatharta’s script tries to fit in too many sub-plots into what is really quite a short film. It leaves you with the feeling of being short-changed on the main storyline, the battle over the cinema.

Overall though this is a decent, if somewhat maudlin film and it certainly won’t do Sheen’s reputation any harm.

- Jim O’Connor