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Lakelands ★★★★



Directors: Robert Higgins, Patrick McGivney

Cast: Éanna Hardwicke, Danielle Galligan, Lorcan Cranitch

Release Date: Glasgow Film Festival

The bright lights of packed-out stadiums as a high-flier or whether you are carrying the expectations of a modest town on your back at a lower level. A sportsperson’s shelf life can be somewhat limited as the body struggles to meet the standards expected of you in certain instances. It can take just one sorry act of animalistic rage, on or off the field, to stall your aspirations.

Within the rustic trappings of Longford, Ireland, Gaelic football is very much a religion for the proud pint-downing men who populate it, and that is considered the foundation for tight-knit bonds to be formed. For talented young player Cian (Eanna Hardwicke), he may have to start praying to a higher power himself as those bonds are severely tested in this tender-hearted tale from directorial duo Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, which keenly explores the emotional dilemmas faced when one’s long-term career vision is abruptly distorted.

There is a roguish charm you immediately draw from Cian, both in his jolly exchanges with his teammates and playing down the concerns of his stern coach (Gary Lydon). Well-respected in the dressing room, he is considered the key driving force in garnering success. But with no room for passengers, the weight of expectation is heavy on all involved’s shoulders.

Such a heavy burden is carried around in his home life too. For all his hard work labouring on the farm, he never fully satisfies his stressed-out dad (Lorcan Cranitch). In a desperate bid to unwind, one impromptu night out leaves Cian’s career in danger of winding down as he is viciously attacked. Carelessly putting on a brave front as he disregards his concussion diagnosis, it is left to returning dear friend and nurse Grace (Danielle Galligan) to break down his formidable defences.

The muddy vastness of its farmland, a scenic river spot where Cian and Grace share a reflective moment. Directors Higgins and Mcgivney’s keen observations within these open spaces, which are at odds with how finite opportunities seem in this town, give Lakelands its storytelling punch. There is a commonality in the respective ambitions of these characters that can birth a profound sense of unease towards those who were lucky enough to have escaped. But also a tendency to press the self-destruct button when you feel you have mishandled your adult life.

This feeling of being restricted feeds into the camerawork of its football sequences, consistently just below eye level or shot from a low angle as the furious action unfolds. It complements the uphill struggle of Cian and his fellow teammates in establishing themselves beyond Longford, alongside how less of a man they feel when not achieving their goals.

Over-compensating with the inherent machismo, when deep down, there is an escalating sense of vulnerability about his whole demeanour. Cian’s fears of no roadmap to recovery are brilliantly conveyed by Eanna Hardwicke, whose sense of loss and regret are so evident in just a subtle telling look—often deployed as a reductive love interest in such stories. Danielle Galligan wonderfully subverts cliché in her role as Grace, drawing a compelling contrast to Cian in how her return home has sadly left them insecure about how she interacts with friends once close to her heart. But despite experiencing the wider world, there is no superiority complex with Grace when interacting with Cian. In their collective exchanges, they find worth in each of their chosen loves which imbues a sense of warmth to counteract the rugged landscape.

At a time when active encouragement of sports personalities speaking up about issues they bury deep inside is prevalent. Consider Lakelands a profoundly meditative, skilfully crafted drama examining masculinity and emphasising second chances’ preciousness.

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