Raising Standards: Declan Recks Discusses The Flag

Director Declan Recks discusses his excellent new film, The Flag, which takes a comedic look at the 1916 commemorations.

Having previously worked together on RTÉ series Pure Mule, director Declan Recks and writer Eugene O’Brien have again teamed up to make The Flag. A charming comedy themed around the 1916 commemorations, it stars the redoubtable Pat Shortt as Harry Hambridge, a down on his luck Irish builder who leads a motley crew in a raid on a British army barracks, after discovering that the building contains the Irish flag hoisted over the GPO by Harry’s late grandfather.

“In January of last year, our producer Rob Walpole emailed us this letter he’d found from his grandfather,” explains Recks of The Flag’s origin. “He’d got it from the army records bureau. His grandfather claimed that he’d raised the tricolour over the GPO, so we thought: could we base the film around this character who goes to try and find the flag? It just worked and Eugene went for the idea straight away. The idea was that Harry was a man who had lost his voice and needed to find some courage again. With the help of his trusty friend Mouse, played by Moe Dunford, he sets about doing it.”

Although Recks had previously worked on dramatic material with comedic elements, this was his first time to direct a feature-length comedy. Whilst acknowledging the difficulties, it helped to have such an experienced comedic actor as Shortt in the lead role.

“If we needed a line, he’d come up with something,” says Declan. “Normally when I’m working with Eugene, he’d drop down to the set once or twice during the shoot, but on this one he was there a lot. We realised that we needed to keep rewriting and coming up with new ideas. With Pat, that approach is second nature to him.

“I’d briefly worked with him before on a BBC thing called Anytime Now, back in 2001. But it was only for a couple of days. He’s just one of the nicest men you could meet: he’s straight down the line and so intelligent about what he does.”

One of the strongest elements of The Flag is the way in which it touches on the Irish emigrant experience, and gives voice to the generation who made their home in the Kilburn area of London.

“It’s something that Eugene has always wanted to write about,” nods Recks. “Obviously we wanted to come at it from a different angle. It’s that idea of the guy from Kilburn who’s kind of left behind – Harry’s in a time-warp, he’s living in the Kilburn of 25 years go. And today he’s in the minority, because if you go to Kilburn, there’s a whole new generation of immigrants, with Polish and Muslim people and so on. The Irish are few and far between. We’re also looking at that idea of someone who hasn’t been home for a while and doesn’t want to come back, because there’s nothing really there for him anymore.

“I spent a bit of time over there in the ’80s with friends of mine who played in bands, so I knew Kilburn and that kind of scene. And Eugene spent a summer over there working on the building sites. That’s where some of the characters, like Blacksod and Hammer, come from. For our generation, it was taking the boat over to England – for the new generation, it’s Ryanair. In The Flag, we wanted to do the boat rather than the plane, because for Pat’s generation, that’s the way they would have travelled.”

As well as Shortt and Dunford, there are strong performances from the likes of Peter Campion and Brian Gleeson. Also hugely impressive is Simone Kirby, who pulls off a flawless English accent in the role of Liz, an old friend of Harry’s for whom he has long harboured romantic feelings.

“Simone’s a lovely actress who we’ve worked with a lot,” enthuses Declan. “Herself and Pat had a great chemistry. You believe there’s a possibility that something could happen, and you’re rooting for them, which is great. Simone is from Clare and she said, ‘It’s so nice to be an Irish actress doing an English accent, as opposed to the other way around’. Actually, Craig Parkinson – who plays The Don – is probably the only English actor in the film.

“We were very lucky with the cast. Ruth Bradley is brilliant as Charlie, the English woman who helps them break into the barracks. She’s an old hand at accents too. I’d actually worked with her mother Charlotte, and I’ve always wanted to work with Ruth. We were delighted to get her, because we sent her the script and thought, ‘She’s not going to do it – it’s too small’. But she loved the idea. Actually, everyone thought it’d be a bit of craic.”

As the 1916 commemorations draw to a close, the overriding feeling is that there are multiple points of view as to what it all meant. Towards the end of The Flag, however, Harry attempts to articulate what the tricolour stands for in the 21st century.

“We figured everything around it was very po-faced and serious,” notes Declan. “So we thought it would be nice to do something that was more tongue-in-cheek. Pat’s character keeps harping on about how little difference there is between us, and how much he owes England. That was something we were talking about as well – it’s not always us against them. One of the key points of that speech is that it’s more about us against the system, and the people who have fucked up the country. Harry has a good dig at that, which we wanted to do as well. Having him stand outside the GPO to make that speech seemed perfect.”

The Flag is released on October 14.

 

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