The Mighty Celt (2005)

Irish coming-of-age tale

I tend to avoid films that focus on a child as a central figure, but decided to watch The Mighty Celt directed and written by Pearse Elliott for its subject matter.

Set in Ireland, the story concerns Donal (Tyrone McKenna) a 14-year-old boy who lives with his single mother, Kate (Gillian Anderson). While they share a good relationship, there’s something lonely and solitary about this boy. Donal has a passion for animals, and this passion is manifested in his pet ferrets and also in his job working for the sadistic Good Joe (Ken Stott)–a man who keeps a number of racing greyhounds.

The film begins with Good Joe tossing the body of yet another murdered greyhound into a nearby lake. To Joe, the greyhounds are not pets–they’re “tools.” And as tools, he keeps them when they work well (that translates to them winning races), and then he murders them if they lose. When Donal persuades Joe to purchase a greyhound with the understanding that the lad will train the dog, well, you just know that this won’t end well….

The Mighty Celt (and that’s the name of Donal’s dog, by the way) is a quiet film that succeeds on many levels. Although the film’s central figure is a small undersized teen, there’s little time wasted on sympathy for this character and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the film. Donal is remarkably solid and confident in his opinions, and while this is in some ways a coming-of-age tale, Donal isn’t really shaken in his belief in the adult world. Instead his foray into dealing with cruelty and betrayal reinforces his recognition of right and wrong.

The story is played out in a modern Ireland with its adults still reeling from the aftereffects of violence. Kate, for example, lost her IRA-connected brother, and O (Robert Carlyle) an old beau returns from prison. Kate harbours a great deal of anger about the “troubles” but O simply lives with regrets. O voices the realization that he never thought he’d be capable of violent acts, while Good Joe despises O as a “sellout.” Good Joe has connections with the “Real IRA” and to him the fight isn’t over.

While many films chose to sentimentalize children, The Mighty Celt doesn’t take that route. Donal is a hard nut, but not overtly so. He’s a product of his violent environment–canny, wary, introspective, and ultimately very interesting.

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