Having heard overwhelming praise for The Quiet Girl, a subtitles drama featuring characters largely speaking in the traditional Irish language, I knew that I had to get around to it ASAP. So I bought the Blu-ray and made some time in my viewing schedule.
It’s very good. While it won’t quite jostle ahead of other films I have already rated as clear favourites from 2022, this has a number of little moments that will make your heart swell, and sometimes break, in different ways, and the whole journey is as emotionally satisfying as it is stressful.
Based on a short story, “Foster”, by Claire Keegan, The Quiet Girl was adapted into a screenplay and directed by Colm Bairéad, someone who has been helming numerous Irish films, both features and shorts, for quite some time now. This might be his most acclaimed work yet, although that is an assumption on my part, but there’s so much done well here that I definitely feel the need to explore his past films. Feel free to recommend any highlights to me.
This is the tale of young Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch). When her mother is due to have another child, Cáit is sent away to live with some relatives for a while. She’s the only one of the children sent away, probably due to the fact that she is more of a daydreamer and wanderer than either of her older sisters, but maybe just due to her age. Anyway, when she arrives at the home of Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett) she is initially uncomfortable and a bit sad, as expected. It isn’t long, however, until Cáit starts realising that change can be a good thing. Apart from the treat of hot running water, Cáit also starts to realise that these two adults care about her in a way she hasn’t experienced in a while. She’s looked after, rather than simply tolerated and viewed as another mouth to feed, which is how she has often felt at home, and this leads to a subtle and beautiful transformation. There’s always that looking day when she has to return home though.
I cannot say enough good things about the performances of Clinch, Crowley, and Bennett here. All three are just superb, and the scenes in which we see a growing bond between Cáit and Seán are real highlights, with Clinch and Bennett conveying everything you need to notice in the smallest of gestures. Kate Nic Chonaonaigh and Michael Patric, as Ma and Da, also do very good work, but it’s very hard to view them as anything other than major obstacles in the way of Cáit’s happiness.
Having been in the care system myself, and subsequently fostered, I know what that is like. The testing of boundaries, getting used to different house rules and habits, eventually becoming more comfortable with people looking out for your best interests. This film captures all of that perfectly, but it can just as easily apply to situations that most of us have been in, whether it is times spent with a babysitter in charge or the visits to family members you only used to see once every few years, meaning you tried to be on your best behaviour until you realised that people were actively encouraging you to have some juice, grab an extra biscuit, and get as messy as you like while playing around in their big back garden.
Last, but by no means least, The Quiet Girl is also a reminder of the positive impact that we can have on the life of any child, whether that it just trying to set some good examples as you go through life or treating them to a small act of kindness that they might not be used to. Even getting kids used to feeling secure and experiencing a big squishy hug can make the world of difference. I wish I remembered these things when I was trying to be a parent, but I always try to do better nowadays, which I think my (now adult) children sometimes appreciate. Even if they go red in the face when it is time for a big squishy hug.
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