Entertainment

Patrick Kielty plays against type in Ballywalter's Belfast-set comedy drama

Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray
Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray

Ballywalter (Rating TBC, 89mins) Drama/comedy. Starring: Seána Kerslake, Patrick Kielty, Lloyd Hutchinson, Joanna Crawford, Paul Mallon, Connor MacNeill, Julian Moore-Cook


Director: Prasanna Puwanarajah

"I DON'T really do 'taxi chat' – I get car-sick," explains minicab driver Eileen (Seána Kerslake) to a persistently chatty passenger who's failed to pick up on her resolutely taciturn vibe when behind the wheel.

It's a nice bit of role reversal from Ballywalter writer Stacey Gregg (Here Before) – in real life, it's generally not the drivers who pray for minimal 'taxi chat' while being ferried from A to B – and it's not the only suspension of disbelief required in director Prasanna Puwanarajah's debut feature: this darkly humorous indie drama casts one of Ireland's top stand-ups as a guy who can't tell a joke to save his life.

Read more:Patrick Kielty - From Dundrum to Donnybrook and the Late Late Show

Paddy Kielty plays Shane, a quiet fella who seems like just another 40-something sad sack when he first gets into Eileen's taxi to travel from the titular seaside town to his evening stand-up comedy class in Belfast. However, as this return journey becomes a weekly fixture for the pair – a reluctant arrangement, on Eileen's part – we gradually learn that the catalyst for Shane's slightly detached demeanour and lonesome existence on the Ards peninsula is less middle-age malaise and more self-imposed exile.

Kielty does a great job of curbing his extrovert tendencies to play this much more internalised, tightly-wound character – and he certainly sells him as a comedy newbie in the film's amusingly cringeworthy stand-up scenes, populated by Shane and his fellow comedy-loving misfits.

Seána Kerslake as Eileen. Picture by Helen Murray
Seána Kerslake as Eileen. Picture by Helen Murray Seána Kerslake as Eileen. Picture by Helen Murray

Kerlslake is also excellent as the acid-tongued Eileen (it helps that the Dublin actor's Belfast accent is pretty dead-on), a troubled 20-something whose woes are more readily apparent. We hear upbeat talk of a boyfriend who works in computers and getting back to London to resume a Media Studies degree, but it's obvious she's stuck in a rut.

We quickly learn that she's back living at home with her mother and heavily pregnant sister while working two jobs: serving in a cafe by day, taxiing at night, neither of which Eileen really enjoys or is even particularly good at – although her deadpan demolition of one annoying cafe customer will surely delight battle-scarred baristas.

She's also drinking too much, debts are mentioned, and there's a minor prang with the taxi which could come back to haunt her.

Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray
Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray Seána Kerslake and Patrick Kielty in Ballywalter. Picture by Helen Murray

Read more:

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Date announced for Patrick Kielty's first Late Late Show


As we find out more about Shane's situation, it becomes clear that the comedy hopeful has taken the old adage of being your own worst critic to extremes.

The film centres on these two lost souls finding unlikely solace in each other's company over repeated journeys, slowly bonding and occasionally butting heads as they become increasingly invested in helping each other to overcome their respective obstacles.

Ballywalter is compelling despite its considered pacing. Characters are well drawn and convincingly, evocatively flawed, with Gregg brave enough to keep the film's central relationship platonic, while a wickedly dark streak of humour – largely mined by Kerslake's caustic cabbie rather than Kielty's would-be funnyman – offsets the more emotional elements of the storytelling.

Despite an abundance of in-car scenes, Puwanarajah manages to keep things cinematic via good use of both Co Down's natural beauty and nocturnal Belfast's neon-lit, rain-slicked urban grime.

As for the stand-up, by the time Shane finally gets it together enough to perform in front of a crowd, he's learned that the best humour is rooted in truth – and that telling the truth means being honest with yourself, no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

Eileen also arrives at this conclusion, eventually: though the manner in which she gains her clarity is much more entertainingly fraught (not to mention literally more painful) than what her passenger goes through.

For those in the mood for a laid-back, wickedly funny human drama driven by a pair of superb lead performances, Ballywalter is a film well worth flagging down.

Rating: 3/5

Ballywalter is released on September 22. There will be select screenings as part of Ireland's National Cinema Day on September 2 and a special Q&A screening at QFT Belfast on Wednesday September 6 with director Prasanna Puwanarajah and writer Stacey Gregg, see queensfilmtheatre.com for details.