Gentle Drama Defines the 2023 Capital Irish Film Festival

Now that Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, there is renewed interest in Irish cinema. The gentle, good-natured drama is a strong representation of the country’s sensibilities: It opts for low-key stories, often focused on family life, that consider the myriad small ways people can fail or be heroes for one another. Even if The Quiet Girl does not win the Oscar, the slate at the 2023 Capital Irish Film Festival, running March 2 through 5, shrewdly double down on the themes Bairéad’s project explores. Most of the featured films—some in Irish, but many in English—focus on the struggles of those in small towns. Many of the heroes are shaped by their homes and families, usually in ways they cannot fully comprehend. Here are a handful of short reviews from the 2023 festival’s best offerings—The Quiet Girl opens this year’s fest, but is already sold out—with recommendations to get you even more primed for Ireland’s larger spot on the world cinema stage.

The Ghost of Richard Harris

The Ghost of Richard Harris screens at the 2023 Capital Irish Film Festival, Courtesy of AFI

In a quote that’s probably misattributed or taken out of context, Sigmund Freud allegedly once quipped that the Irish are the only people impervious to psychoanalysis. The documentary The Ghost of Richard Harris is a traditional biography of the famous actor and musician, but it’s also an attempt to reckon with Freud’s observation. What was really driving Harris, a beloved actor who also developed a reputation as a drunk and a scoundrel? Some answers arrive, although they prove immaterial to this portrait of a life well lived.

Nowadays, Harris is perhaps best known for being the first person to portray Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. He played the beloved wizard until his death in 2002, but prior to all that, he had a decades-spanning career with dizzying highs and lows. Director Adrian Sibley gets key biographical detail through Harris’ three sons, the actor Jared Harris most recognizable among them, but also friends and other actors who worked with him over the years. Many speak about Harris fondly, while others are more careful to note his ferocious side, which coincides with his love of booze and bad behavior.

In archival footage and excerpts from diaries, Harris resists deeper analysis. Quite simply, he drank like a fish and got into fights because he loved doing both—it seems fighting and drinking helped him feel more alive, right down to the headache and bruises he woke up with the following mornings. But Sibley does not stop at Harris’ drunken brawls, instead the director burrows deeper into Harris’ treasure trove of journals and poetry. Ultimately, the documentary suggests events in Harris’ early life were formative in a way the actor would never fully acknowledge.

Either way, The Ghost of Richard Harris is a lively, thoughtful examination of the actor, the kind that will appeal to longtime fans and neophytes alike. No matter how familiar you might be with his work, this documentary practically demands you add some of his forgotten films to your watch list, or at least put the tune “MacArthur Park” back into regular rotation.

Shirley McQuay

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