THE 2016 Galway Film Fleadh finished on a home-town high last Sunday night with the world premiere of Sanctuary, Len Collin’s terrific big-screen adaptation of Christian O’Reilly’s 2012 play for Blue Teapot Theatre Company.
Featuring the play’s original cast and shot on location around Galway, the film received a rapturous standing ovation and also won the Fleadh’s award for Best First Irish Feature.
Funny, moving and insightful, Sanctuary explores the tricky issue of sexual and romantic relationships between people who are intellectually disabled. Larry, who has Down Syndrome, and Sophie, who has severe epilepsy, long to be together but society’s rules keep them apart. During a group outing to the cinema their care worker, Tom (played by Robert Doherty ), sneaks them away to a nearby hotel and books them a room.
It is Larry and Sophie’s first time to share real private moments and they both try to steer their way through the emotional minefield of desire, uncertainty, awkwardness, love, and intimacy. As Larry and Sophie, Kieran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly deliver heartfelt, sensitive and beguiling performances and their ‘close encounter’ is utterly compelling.
Meanwhile, back at the cinema, some of Tom’s other charges avail of his absence by absconding on hilarious adventures of their own. Double-act William (Frank Butcher ) and Andrew (Paul Connolly ) go looking for Tom but end up ensconced in An Tobar sinking pints.
Alice (Valerie Egan ) and Matthew (Patrick Becker ) lose themselves in the alluring wonderland of Galway Shopping Centre. Peter (Michael Hayes ) and Sandy (Emer ) debate the etiquette of flirting while watching the movie and the final member of the group, Rita (Jennifer Cox ) is determined to visit the Christmas Fair in Eyre Square.
It has to be said, Galway looks great in the movie, whether in the panoramic aerial shots or the scenes wending through the Christmas-lit lights of the city centre. O’Reilly’s script – brilliantly enlarging the original play to fill the larger canvas afforded by the film - is both laugh-out loud funny and hugely heart-warming.
It can also be heart-breaking; Sophie is given a backstory revealing abuse at one of her earlier care homes and the film does not shy away from having her and Larry’s tender romance bump up hard against the harsh reality of what is for them, a non-permissive society.
Director Len Collin gets wonderful performances from the entire cast (including a clutch of Galway actors in supporting roles ) but one has to single out Kieran Coppinger for special praise for the range and depth that he brings to the role of Larry.
Sanctuary is an utter joy of a movie. Galway audiences will have another chance to see it on October 21 when there will be a special fundraising screening, details of which will be confirmed soon, and plans are afoot to give it a general cinema release later in the year.