- 16 Oct 18
Written by acclaimed author Roddy Doyle, Rosie is a powerful and affecting examination of the Irish housing crisis.
Now essentially an Irish institution, novelist and screenwriter Roddy Doyle published his first book in 1987 and has remained a vital voice on the Irish arts scene ever since. His novels and screenplays were instantly popular, not just for their sense of humour and their emphasis on social issues, but also because Doyle represented a voice that was all too often overlooked in literature: that of the working class.
Tomes such as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Smile and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors have tackled such issues as family struggles, clerical sex abuse, and domestic violence. More of his work has been adapted and immortalised onscreen, including The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van.
Doyle’s latest project, the Paddy Breathnach-directed drama Rosie, again captures a very particular facet of modern Ireland: the struggles of a family to find a home in the middle of the housing crisis. Starring Sarah Greene and Moe Dunford, Rosie is an empathetic exploration of the obstacles facing working class people in Ireland, and how our broken system can leave hardworking families extremely vulnerable.
Doyle began writing the screenplay for Rosie two years ago, after hearing a woman on the radio speak about her daily routine of phoning hotels and temporary accommodation, trying to find a place for her family to bed down for the night.
“She was so precise describing what the day involved,” recalls Doyle. “Also, she managed to be calm even though her situation was so awful. And when she said her partner couldn’t help her look for a house because he was at work all day, that really arrested me, because that’s a real working class couple. The term ‘underclass’ is being used an awful lot now, because it can be explained as their fault or some weakness of their own. There’s a general scapegoating when it comes to class.
“You see it all the time, the blame which says that people deserve their circumstances. If a middle class woman has a lot of kids, it’s ‘Isn’t she amazing!’ If a working-class woman does the same, it’s ‘Haven’t you heard of contraception?’ Those attitudes prevail. But the people suffering are working class people who work, have paid rent, and just fall off the conveyer belt when the landlord sells their house.”
OBSESSED WITH PROPERTY
Rosie, played by Greene, is the mother of four children, and when the family find themselves without a home, her days become a seemingly endless routine of trying to find somewhere to stay, while also taking care of the daily needs of her family. Rosie’s day is about performance, as she constantly tries to hide her fears and frustration from her children and the endless list of people who reject her. The screenplay is as much about what goes unsaid by people trying to survive.
“When you’re writing a script,” says Doyle, “more so than with prose, you have a chance to give her a personality with what she says. Then you hope that the actress and director fill in the gaps. For example, she’s very gracious and has been brought up to be polite, so she says ‘thank you’ to everyone, even when they’re rejecting her. It’s natural to her – like the way we say ‘Thank you’ to the bus driver. I’ve never seen anyone else do that but the Irish. And she calls everyone ‘hun’. It’s affectionate, and I hear a lot of Dublin women using it, and I think it’s lovely. It shows her character.”
Of course the tragedy with the film is that two years after writing it, it’s even more relevant. If anything, the housing crisis in Ireland has escalated.
“Hopefully we’re reaching a point where it’s seen as unacceptable,” muses Doyle. “When I was writing, I was wondering in the back of my mind ‘Will this still be relevant?’ And the writer in me is hoping it will be, the citizen is hoping it isn’t – and the citizen would happily smother the writer for a more positive change. But the housing crisis just seems to be getting worse.”
Doyle doesn’t feel hopeless – but he does stress the need for immediate and collective action, and fears we place too much faith in those in power.
“Major social and political change comes from the bottom up,” he says. “I can’t think of any rights or movements that easily flow downwards when they’re only offered to the most powerful. We have marriage equality and abortion because enough vulnerable and affected people rose up and said, ‘This is what we need’. Others joined them until they couldn’t not be heard, and we had a referendum. What makes this issue more complicated and a bit of a non-subject in some ways is that it comes down to property, and what our principles are.
“Are we willing to make property less of a pinnacle in people’s lives? And so far, we’re not. We cling to the idea that you can’t interfere with the market, the market will sort it out, despite the fact that the market has caused chaos. All the market is, really, is men with cocaine, gambling. And the State will always interfere with the market when it suits – Google and Facebook aren’t here because they love Ireland, it’s because they’ve been given incentives. So one wonders whether enough people are willing to be less obsessed with property to make change.”
Rosie is in cinemas from October 12.