Dancing at Lugnasa

In preparation for my next Open University course I have 9 books to read over the summer. I’ve also been trying to find film and TV adaptations for the books on my reading list if possible. I thought it would be fun to review each one as I go along.

The first book I’ve managed to read and see the film of is Dancing at Lugnasa by Brian Friel. It’s a play set in Co Donegal, Southern Ireland in the 1930’s in which the narrator, Michael, recalls his time living with his mum and 4 aunts when he was seven.

I saw the film before I had chance to read the book. The first thing that struck me is that depsite a wealth or Irish actors half the female leads and the character of their brother Uncle Jack are all played by non-Irish people. I appreciate that Meryl Streep is a good actress and can do accents very well but it’s hard to believe the film makers couldn’t find enough native thespians to fit the roles.

That aside it’s a plodding little tale of the sisters, their elder brother and the boys’ father over the course of one summer. Of the 5 sisters only the eldest Kate has a well paid job as a school teacher. Two others knit gloves to be sold in town and the remaining two have no jobs. Over the course of the play their prospects dwindle with the advent of the Irish Revolution hitting Ireland – the gloves are to be made through factory machines instead.

For uncle Jack the film didn’t for me seem to discuss much why he had returned from his missionary in Uganda unless it was mentioned so fast I missed it depsite the fact it was faithful to the written version. However the book gives a clearer picture with hints that rather than his failing health, it was more a case of “going native” rather than being able to convert the natives to Christianity

Religion is also covered slightly as the central story running through the play is dancing (and music) including Rose’s desire to go dance at the Celtic festival of Lugnasa and the sisters frowning on such Pagan traditions. The Pagan worshipers are often regarded as uncouth and vagrants rather than upstanding members of the community, a similar route that was taken when the British colonised the African countries centuries before.

It’s one of the rare cases where I cannot decide which I liked best between the book and the film as the film is completely faithful to the text. Whilst it’s not a film that will take you on a whirlwind ride of thrills or tears (depsite the un-Hollywood unhappy endings) it is a perfect film for a Sunday afternoons entertainment.

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