Writers and Directors of new Irish-language film, Róise & Frank, discuss themes, loss and the professionalism of the English canine actor.
The two minute trailer to TG4’s Cine4 Scheme produced Róise & Frank, opens with scenes of grieving widow, Róise (played by Bríd Ni Neachtain ) going about life; opening curtains, pottering around her kitchen, while her adult son, Alan (played by Cillian O’Gairbhi ) answers the age old question of, “how’s your mother?”, with a succinct and dishonest, “fine.”
A question and an answer which will be familiar to anyone who has grieved a loss of a loved one. For the film’s writers and directors, Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy, ‘Róise & Frank’ is a wider discussion of how Irish culture acknowledges grief, how it impacts the person experiencing it, but also how it effects the wider community.
“There’s this idea that you have a certain amount of time before you’re expected to get over it. In the film, it’s a full two years after the death, it’s almost like the village is continuing to suffer because she is still grieving and hasn’t gotten over it,” said Murphy.
“We were interested in the fact that someone would judge you, be uncomfortable about that. She goes through the months mind, anniversaries and is expected to recover and she just didn’t,” he added.
For Moriarty and Murphy, a writing and directing duo who had previously created 2015’s darkly gritty film, ‘Traders’, starring actors Killian Scott and John Bradley, ‘Róise & Frank’ is a completely new direction.
“It’s like a trajectory from feel bad to feel good,” Moriarty laughed, adding, “this was a little more of a leap into the unknown, a bitter sweet, feel good, light and dark story.”
The concept originated in a discussion between the two about Irish death superstitions, a stranger appearing at the door, a robin in the garden and all the “spirituality and portents in Ireland. Talking about that led us to the notion that someone would believe that their loved one had come back as a dog,” Moriarty explained.
The very talented, Bríd Ni Neachtain, who will be starring in the upcoming Martin McDonagh film, “The Banshees of Inisherin”, plays the part of Róise, acting as a kind of muse for Moriarty and Murphy.
“It was a kind of lightbulb moment. The part was written for her and she was in our heads when we were writing and it’s was such a helpful and rare thing, something you don’t have normally. You feel kind of secure because of it and Bríd liked the idea from the start,” stated Moriarty.
It’s unusual for a co-lead to be of the four legged variety, but Battersea rescue dog, Barley, who has also appeared in period drama ‘Poldark’ and maritime epic, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’, was a consummate professional.
“Barley was an amazing actor. When we spoke to Gill (Rawlings, animal trainer and canine agent ), she told us that there was only one dog who can make this film. There was an incredible amount for a dog to do and deliver,” stated Murphy.
One of Murphy’s favourite moments in the filming process for Róise and Frank, came from Barley’s acting ability.
“There was initially a very complicated scene for a dog, where he has to come in and look at 4 or 5 faces and find a sliotar in a bag, and we were saying, ‘if he can do it, we’re good and we can make the film’. He did it and it was a real buzz to get an animal to be able to preform like that.”
The reception to ‘Róise & Frank’ in festivals across the US have been extremely warm, with great reception to the film and the themes of loss and grief, with the film winning The Audience Choice Awards at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
“We had a woman come up to us at Santa Barbara , she was a widow and had been toying with the idea of coming to see it. After she was thrilled she had gone, and really connected with it,” said Murphy.
Likewise, the reaction internationally to the story being told in Irish has been exceedingly warm.
“How it went down in America amazed us. They were fascinated that there was an area in Ireland where Irish was used as people’s first language,” explained Murphy.
“There were some people who never even realised the language existed,” added Moriarty.
‘Róise & Frank’ was produced as part of TG4’s Cine4 scheme, something both Moriarty and Murphy praised for it’s speed and efficiency with helping to get the project off it’s feet. Given that it was always going to be an Irish language film, the setting of a small village in the Gaeltacht area around Ring, Co. Waterford. was a favorite aspect of the project for Rachael Moriarty.
“My favourite part, looking back, was the way the local community were involved in the film. The children in it are at their real school, the choir featured is a real choir and I remember feeling like we were a part of that community. The people were warm and intimate.”
‘Róise & Frank’ will be released in cinemas September 16.