Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.
Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.
By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.
When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.
What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.
A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.
It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.
9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.