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Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty co-star in Ballywalter.
ireland on screen

Patrick Kielty on his new film and how he thought he was being pranked when it was offered

Kielty stars alongside Seána Kerslake in uplifting tragicomedy Ballywalter.

PATRICK KIELTY’S FIRST Late Late Show has landed about the same time as another big first for the Co. Down man.

Kielty is also acting in his first feature film, an uplifting tragicomedy called Ballywalter that is in some ways very much in his wheelhouse but is also quite the departure.

The film is set between the Co. Down seaside village of its title and Belfast, where Shane (Kielty) must head to every week to attend a stand up comedy class.

Shane is unable to drive himself to the class and is instead forced to get a weekly taxi driven by Eileen (Seána Kerslake).

Eileen’s nixer as a part-time taxi driver isn’t papering over the fact that she’s clearly fed up with life and her caustic remarks to Shane only seem to enforce her unhappiness.

The pair engage in awkward chats but it’s clear from early on that both have an inkling that there’s a reason for their ennui and show each other more patience than they do to others.

Unlike Kielty’s amiable and gregarious persona, Shane is far more introverted and even his fellow wannabe stand-ups in the comedy class aren’t able to get much from him.

The film was written by Stacey Gregg, who is from Dundonald, about halfway between the two film locations, and is directed by Prasanna Puwanarajah, a prolific London-based actor, director and writer for both stage and screen.

Puwanarajah might be best known to audiences for playing Martin Bashir in the most recent series of The Crown but he’s also directed productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

Kielty says he genuinely thought it was a wind-up when he was offered the role:

I didn’t think it was a real offer. I was waiting for Ant and Dec to come round the corner.

The story is of accidental friendship between Shane and Eileen and it touches on various forms of struggle including depression, problem drinking and grief.

This might sound like tough going but it’s really not as there is rarely a scene where a joke is not cracked, either directly or in a more sarcastic and Irish way.

Speaking to The Journal about the film, Kielty mentions one striking scene that could amount to a counselling session were it not for the slagging between them.

“At the start of their relationship they were using comedy to sort of bat each other away and, you know, push each other apart. That scene in Grey Abbey, that was a brilliant scene to film and it was that thing where they were saying, ‘I am being open here’. The characters were crying and revealing stuff about themselves, but they were still able to make each other laugh through the snot and the tears.”

The film is about repeatedly failing but not shutting yourself off the potential that something or someone could help. Leaving your light on as a taxi driver might want to do.

“There were definitely moments and some jokes that really tickled me that I’m like, no, I’m not meant to enjoy them as much as I did,” Kerslake says of the balance between comedy and more serious matters.

But I suppose it’s like life, isn’t it? You’re dealing with people and their baggage, unbeknownst to us. We knock through it with humour all the time, so we’re always navigating that path I think between the light and the heavy.

BREAK OUT PICTURES / YouTube

Dealing with trauma and loss is something that Kielty has spoken about in the context of The Troubles. His own father was shot and killed by loyalist paramilitaries and he has made a number of documentaries about the legacy of the conflict and the experiences of victims.

As a comedian, The Troubles has frequently featured as part of his career and he’s no doubt aware that audiences he’s performed to have similar experiences to his own.

“I’d done a couple of documentaries about the Good Friday Agreement and I think that opened up to me that everybody’s carrying something. Everybody in life is carrying some sort of pain, some sort of trauma,” he says.

So I didn’t really have to do any research for it (the film). But the moment that you open your eyes and you realise that everyone’s carrying something and maybe somebody is having a bad day, you ask ‘why are they having a bad day?’ Well, it’s probably because at some point they’ve gone through something that’s hurt them.

“I think at the heart of this film is two people who were hiding their hurt and the moment that they actually start revealing to each other that can sort of help fix that.”

The character of Eileen is younger than Shane and needs to break out of the rut that’s holding her back. She also drinks too much, not in the stereotypical film way of sneaking swigs of vodka during the day but in too often waking up full of regrets about her behaviour the night before.

It’s territory Kerslake notes her career has explored before (A Date for Mad Mary, Can’t Cope Won’t Cope) and she says this kind of destructive drinking is often too easily ignored and excused.

“I think in a lot of my work there’s been a lot of casual drinking and abuse of alcohol and it’s something that can definitely go under the radar. Phrases like, ‘oh, he’s fond of it’, you know what I mean? Usually it means he has an issue with alcohol, so you’re very aware of it.”.

The film reaches its conclusion in Belfast’s Empire Music Hall, where Kielty himself was instrumental in setting up Northern Ireland’s first comedy club back in 1992.

“It was when I got out of university and it was pretty much my first ever gig. So to be on that stage for the final scene in the film, that was a really weird full circle.”

Ballywalter is in cinemas from Friday 22 September

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