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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
a date for mad mary

This Irish film about prison, a wedding, and female friendship is being called a triumph

We talked to the film’s stars.


“ONE OF the best Irish films of the year.”

The new Irish film A Date For Mad Mary has been hoovering up a huge amount of praise since its release – and it’s being touted as proof that Ireland can punch well above its weight in the movie world.

The film tells the story of two young women, Mary and Charlene (played by Seána Kerslake and Charleigh Bailey respectively) and their disintegrating friendship as Mary emerges from a short stint in jail only to be faced with her bestie having transformed into a bridezilla.

Mad Mary 1

The film has many special elements to it – it’s Darren Thornton’s directorial debut; it stars a female-heavy cast; it’s set in Drogheda, not usually a big setting for films; its lead, Kerslake, is seeing her star rise in the film world; and it touches on friendship, sexuality and relationships in a way that everybody can relate to.

When catches up with Kerslake and Bailey, it’s the day before the film’s official release.

“I think it’s kind of overwhelming at times but I can’t wait, I’m really excited for everyone to see it and laugh and cry, and whatever feelings they feel during it,” says Bailey when asked how she’s feeling about the film going out into the world.

Just days later, the film has taken in €47,814 at the Irish box office, having opened at 19 locations nationwide. In comparison, Woody Allen’s Café Society also opened the same weekend at 15 locations and took in just over €38k.

Element Pictures Distribution / YouTube

The actors are particularly proud of the fact the film is about female friendship. “I think that’s a huge draw for me, the female friendship, because it’s such a universal thing and genderless,” says Kerslake.

“It’s that thing where you have a best friend and you think this will last forever and you realise as you grow up you shift and change and opinions change, life experience changes, so you don’t always fit as well together as you used to. But sometimes you can adapt and still move past that and become even better friends – or it can fall by the wayside, and I think that aspect of it really intrigued me.”

Mary and Charlene bridal shop Charlene and Mary in a bridal shop.

Being Mad Mary

‘Mad’ Mary has a bit of a temper – to put it mildly – and can’t escape the moniker that she’s been crowned with. Living in a small town makes it all the harder.

“It’s just a name she can’t shake, so even when she meets Jess and she doesn’t know her this is her chance to shake this label,” says Kerslake. Jess’s relationship with Mary is pivotal in her development as a person.

And even in a small town you can’t escape that [label], so for her to escape she has to get out to transform herself and I think that is where Mary would go after the film, she needs to break away to become a new person.

It’s a situation familiar to many Irish people – you don’t need to have spent time in prison, or be your town’s resident angry woman, to know what it feels like to be tagged as a particular type of person. Trying to escape others’ preconceived notions about you and your character can lead you to flee the town you grew up in.

Jess and Mary

Not a villain

Charlene, Mary’s best friend, is similarly outgoing, but while she’s a ‘bridezilla’ she isn’t as aggressive as her friend.

“For me, I felt like Charlene showed so many different sides to her – and I loved how blunt she was, and how she just said what she meant, even if it hurt someone,” says Bailey. “She was unapologetically truthful and definitely the comedy aspect to Charlene I was drawn to as well.”

I thought she was an amazing 3D character and couldn’t wait to play her. Loved her. I had a ball playing her.

It can be easy with a character like Charlene to fall into the trap of assuming she’s the baddie – she is, after all, the reason why her friend Mary has to audition a string of unsuitable men for dates.

“I didn’t really see her as a villain either,” says Bailey. “And obviously as an actor you’re trying not to judge her character and I felt like she was rightfully so a bridezilla, and why not – like that’s every woman’s time to have your mam, your sisters, your bridesmaids, pandering to you – having you up on a pedestal. So I thoroughly enjoyed all that aspect to it.”

Jess single at bar

Kerslake was drawn to Mary because “she was so complex and everything that was going on with her and how confused she was with herself”.

And I can identify with that, times in your life when you don’t understand your feelings and getting to know your feelings and things like that.

With the setting up of Waking the Feminists in Ireland’s theatre world, more eyes tend to be on female characters when they set foot on Irish stages – and in the film world, there’s similarly an interest in how women are portrayed.

The Irish Film Board, for example, launched a six-point plan on gender equality late last year, in an effort to encourage more women to get involved in filmmaking. So to see a film with a strong female cast is something that has clearly resonated with a certain section of the A Date For Mad Mary audience.

Kerslake and Bailey play two women who aren’t afraid of sharing their opinions, which is something that resonated with both actresses. “I do love how they are so blunt and unapologetic, they don’t realise that their social graces, they are not being correct in the way they behave a lot of the time, which was kind of fun to play,” says Kerslake.

Bailey, meanwhile, describes playing Charlene as “very liberating”.

“I think as Irish people we are so polite and afraid of offending – so to have these characters which were just like ‘that’s the way it is and deal with it’, that was really refreshing.”

Kerslake agrees.

Because Mary wasn’t afraid of the repercussions, if it did end in a fight that was OK by her – if anything she’d probably like that, she wants a reaction, so she knows what she’s doing.

Mary Hoodie

Playing a character like Mary was tough at times for Kerslake, however.

“[Sometimes I] would feel lonely in the character, or if you were about ready to go for a take and it was quite an angry, angsty scene, trying to hold that till the take was quite difficult, because there are so many emotions going on and you just want to burst,” she says.

That is hard as an actor, dialling down the emotions so you are not a horror show to work with, but as well you want to get the performance that you need to get.

Can't Cope, Won't Cope stars Nika McGuigan and Séana Kerslake. Karl Hussey / RTÉ Nika McGuigan and Seána Kerslake in Can't Cope, Won't Cope Karl Hussey / RTÉ / RTÉ

Now that the film has hit a chord with Irish audiences, the question is what the women are up to next. For Kerslake, it’s a role in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, Stefanie Preissner’s much-anticipated series for RTÉ, while Bailey is set to finish a tour of Angels in the Park.

“It’s unwritten, the next chapter, and we’re excited to see what’s coming next,” says Kerslake as we wrap up the interview – but it’s clear that with the reaction A Date For Mad Mary has received so far, the future looks bright indeed.

A big year for Irish cinema

Handsome Devil IFB Handsome Devil IFB

We’ve already had Viva, and A Date For Mad Mary – but there is even more great Irish cinema on its way.

Handsome Devil, directed by John Butler (The Stag) and Brain on Fire from Gerard Barrett (Glassland) are two forthcoming Irish films that were announced for the Toronto Film Festival, which runs until 19 September.

They join other Irish films The Secret Scripture (directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Rooney Mara, Jack Reynor and Vanessa Redgrave), Maudie (directed by Aisling Walsh and starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke), Unless (Alan Gilsenan, director of the Yellow Bittern), Without Name (directed by Lorcan Finnegan under the IFB Catalyst project), Forever Pure (documentary produced by Alan Maher, directed by Maya Zinshtein) and the short Second to None (directed by Vincent Gallagher) at the festival.

Brain on Fire TIFF 16 IFB A still from Brain on Fire IFB

Then there’s Mattress Men, a documentary about Michael Flynn, aka Mattress Mick and How to Defuse a Bomb: The Project Children Story, which looks at children being sent from 197s Northern Ireland to spend the summer in the USA. They’re among the documentaries set to feature at the IFI Documentary Festival, which runs from 22 – 25 September.

Irish films have already taken more than €125 million in the worldwide box office in 2015/2016 to date. Earlier this year the Irish Film Board launched its new film strategy – and called for an increase in funding.

The board has had its funding cut since the recession, leaving it to wonder if this could have an impact on the output from the Irish film industry in future years.

“We are saying very loudly in our strategy that we need the immediate restoration of pre-recession funding to at least €20 million. Look at what we’ve done with limited funding – just think what we could do if we had the funding that we’d like to have to take the industry forward,” said the chairperson designate of the IFB, Annie Doona in July.

Read: An Irish film about Cuban drag queens helped these filmmakers find their voice>

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