Dancing at Lughnasa
dir. by Pat O’Connor
starring Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon
Life is falling apart at the edges for Kate and her 4 spinster sisters in 1936 Donegal. Three men enter the sisters’ lives, and not for the better. Dotty uncle Jack went deep native after 25 years in Darkest Africa. Danny Bradley’s wife left him, and now he wants to marry slow-witted Ruth. Chris’ ex-lover Jerry stops by on his way to the Spanish civil war to visit her and her love child, Michael. Well, Jack gets Kate fired as teacher by his mere existence in town. Danny fails to lead Rose away, and Jerry is a nice dancer, but good for little else. The sisters’ livelihood disappears when a knitting mill moves to town. A fox eats the rooster. Grim and Grimmer. An impromptu dance cheers everyone up for 5 minutes, then things get still worse.
The film is narrated from Michael’s point of view. Little Mike is hanging around waiting to grow up. You, too, will hope that happens soon, as this film shows that no matter how bad things are, no matter what tragedy befalls us, things can in fact get worse. Ireland is a beautiful place, but it is cloudy much of the time in this film, mirroring the cloud hanging over the sisters. Meryl Streep gives an excellent performance as the self righteous Kate, dedicated to the No Fun Under Any Circumstances school of poverty. This is a star vehicle, but an effective one.
Are you hoping for symbolism? There’s plenty to go around. Mike loses his kite, along with a protective spirit. A fox enters the chicken coop, bringing death and change. Uncle Jack freely mixes the symbols of the Christian, Celtic, and African harvest festivals. It’s better than a Tarot reading. If you’re feeling too happy, and need a little downer, go Dancing at the feast of Lughnasa.