Ireland on Location: ‘Ondine’ & Castletownbere

30 Sep

Back in 2008, Colin Farrell came to the area of West Cork known as the Beara Peninsula to film his latest film Ondine, directed by the Oscar winning Irish film-maker and novelist Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins).

The film centres around Farrell’s character Syracuse, nicknamed ‘Circus’, a fisherman on the coast of Cork who one day captures an enchanting young woman in one of his nets. Syracuse’s young daughter becomes increasingly convinced that the young woman is a ‘selkie’, a mythical creature said to live as a seal in the water, but who can also shed her skin to live as a human on land.

I always find that Colin Farrell is a hit and miss kind of actor. He either gets it really right, or really really wrong. He makes a very good vampire (Fright Night), an excellent guilt-ridden hitman (In Bruges) and an outstanding slobbish, cocaine-addled nightmare of a boss (Horrible Bosses). Yet he makes a shocking comic-book villain (Daredevil), and lets not even talk about his Alexander the Great (Alexander). Thankfully in Ondine, he manages to hit the mark perfectly as a West Cork fisherman and devoted father. His accent is scarily good, succeeding in mastering the very particular and peculiar regional twang of the West Cork region without  even breaking a sweat. It’s something that I can’t even get close to imitating, even though I live in the area.

While the film is well acted and the narrative is well told, the film’s strongest point is the bewitching use of Beara’s stunning scenery. Beara is a shining example of what makes this region of Ireland such a joy to behold.

Beara’s ragged beauty, surveyed by Alicja Bachleda’s mysterious character Ondine

Filming took over the town of Castletownbere, the Roancarrig lighthouse, and the small harbour of Pulleen, to the west of Castletownbere from July to September 2008. Hollywood star Colin Farrell reportedly embraced the small town’s life during his time there, lending his services to the opening of the town’s regatta and frequenting the local watering holes in the evenings (no surprises there…). The town also had the honour of hosting the first public showing of the film in March 2009, when the film was shown by the ‘Cinemobile’ cinema van at the Beara Community School.

The Beara Peninsula is no stranger to film crews looking for something special, a landscape that captivates and draws you into a film. Other films made in the area include the Japanese film Tamatama in 2011, the popular Irish classic Falling for a Dancer, and the 1977 Fred Astaire film The Purple Taxi. With its rugged coastal cliffs and hills, vast fields of green and quaint, yet weathered, fishing cottages, the area does have a slight otherworldly feel to it. While this stretch of coastline can be cruel, with its sharp rocks and the dark stormy skies typical of Irish weather, there is an almost unexplainable sense of beauty about the place as well.  Like much of West Cork, there is a sense that time’s relentless onwards march has passed the Peninsula by. It’s easy to feel lost in time, or, as I often like to think, lost in some great landscape reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

In Ondine, Jordan is dealing with a story that has a touch of fairytale about it. However, it isn’t the type of fairytale that involves pampered princesses in distress, waiting patiently for her handsome young prince to rescue her upon his white stead. Like the coastline of Beara, there is something savage, yet beautiful, in the legend of the selkie and in the story of Ondine. This is why the setting for the film couldn’t be more perfect. It’s not a straightforward fairytale, just like West Cork isn’t a straightforward place. There’s always a touch of the cruel reality to the otherwise captivating scenery. One day West Cork can be the loneliest  bleakest place in the world, small pockets of civilisation battered by the unforgiving elements and the next it can be an alluring haven of beauty, nature’s most inspiring display of survival against all odds.

It’s no surprise then that Jordan returned to Beara to film his latest movie Byzantium in February 2012. Again, the story has both a touch of mythology and reality to it; it’s a vampire movie, but Jordan’s vampires don’t have fangs and can walk around during daylight. So thankfully, not a bit of this sparkling vampire nonsense brought to us by Twilight in sight!

The peaceful co-existence of reality and mythology around the Beara Peninsula, and its long history of being a friendly host to the film crews that visit it, will surely mean that the area will continue to draw film-makers to the region for a long time to come.

Or at least that’s what this aspiring film-maker hopes. Mostly because I’d quite like a job sometime soon…



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