WAKING NED DEVINE
Waking Ned, the new movie from the producers of Shooting Fish, proves that a film about
two elderly men can be hip entertainment, not hip-replacement. NICK RODDICK reports.
It all started, insists writer/director Kirk Jones, with a little story he found in a
newspaper clipping about how the postmistress of a tiny rural community was suspected of
having won a small fortune but didn’t want to tell anyone.
"She’d put up a notice in her window to the effect that she had not, contrary
to local rumour, won the football pools," says Jones, who makes his feature debut
with Waking Ned, a film whose script he honed down over four years of work as an
award-winning commercials director. "The locals had answered by saying that, even if
she had won, she wouldn’t have told anyone because she was so tight-fisted she
wouldn’t want to share it!
"I was really looking for an idea for a short
film" writer/director Kirk Jones
"I was really looking for an idea for a short film when I discovered the
clipping," continues Jones. "I turned it into a 10-minute script and showed it
to a few people in the business, who all agreed it was too good an idea for a short, and
that I should expand it into a feature.
"It seemed such a huge jump, going from 10 pages to 120 pages. But that was four
years ago and, in between directing TV commercials and after much polishing and changing,
I came up with the final script.
"I think it was a good thing doing it over a four-year period," he adds,
"because it meant that I kept going back to it and making sure that every aspect
writer/director Kirk Jones
"grew old but never grew up"
The story that came out of this long gestation period has the same basic idea of a
mystery jackpot winner in a small community, but the ante has been upped a little and the
focus is no longer on the winner - that would be hard, since he died with joy at the shock
of winning - but on two old codgers (played by Ian Bannen and David Kelly) who, as Jones
puts it, "grew old but never grew up".
Jackie O’Shea (Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (Kelly) live in the tiny Irish
community of Tullymore, having a good time, larking about and generally behaving
disgracefully for men of their age and supposed wisdom. One day, Jackie discovers that one
of the villagers has won six million pounds in the National Lotto. Reasoning that, when
the other 52 inhabitants of Tullymore discover what has happened, they’ll all be
wanting to get in the good books of the winner, they decide they need to get there first
and ingratiate themselves.
Their search leads them, via some complex detective work (including a chicken dinner
for Tullymore’s 18 regular Lotto players where a leg is left over, proving someone
didn’t show up) to the house of Ned Devine, whom they find dead on his bed, a smile
of delight and wonder frozen forever on his face and the winning ticket clutched firmly in
"It’s not a
film about old men, but a film about two men, their friendship and their last great
adventure together." co-producer Neil Peplow
What follows is an escalating series of comic events, as Jackie decides to impersonate
Ned (who had no family) but finally has to bring the rest of Tullymore in on the secret so
that he can overcome one last little hurdle: that of having his identity confirmed.
Needless to say, it is not plain sailing, not least because of the efforts of Lizzie Quinn
(Eileen Dromy), a cantankerous old witch who threatens to blow the whistle on the scheme
unless she receives a larger share of the winnings and is only prevented from doing so by
a series of developments that start with a sneeze.
"It’s not a film about old men," says co-producer Neil Peplow, "but
a film about two men, their friendship and their last great adventure together." And
the approach to the story involves the same recognition of the kind of movie that
international audiences demand these days which made Shooting Fish, the previous
collaboration between producers Glynis Murray and Richard Holmes of The Gruber Brothers,
such a hit
"two of the most charming people" producer Glynis Murray
"We always say their age is irrelevant: they could be 22 years old," agrees
Murray, who runs production company Tomboy Films. "We chose Ian and David because
they are two wonderful characters and two of the most charming people we’ve ever met.
When you see them on screen, you realise you wouldn’t get that sort of warmth from
"They’re so full of energy," adds Peplow. "They ride around on a
motorcycle half naked, swim nude in the sea and pull this massive con. This is not On
Bannen started his career playing in the classic Boulting Brothers comedies, and
obviously finds echoes of their style in Waking Ned. But the bit about running
naked into the sea did initially give him pause for thought.
"I haven’t done many nude scenes in my career," he chuckles, "and
at my time of life you wouldn’t think there’d be much demand for them! And
believe me, it wasn’t entirely pleasant: the sea around the Isle of Man is not
exactly the Mediterranean!"
"a village with the right geography" producer Glynis Murray
The decision to shoot the film - over a six-week period last August and September - in
the Manx village of Cregneash is a tribute both to the efforts of the Isle of Man Film
Commission, which has used the island’s semi-tax-haven status to lure a number of
productions there, and to the compactness of the village itself.
"Kirk had looked all over southern Ireland," says Murray, "and not
managed to find a village with the right geography, where you can see the whole village,
completely contained and not spread out over a wide area."
"I wanted the audience to relate to the situations the characters were in,"
says the director, "so we decided we’d play for a very real look.
‘Real’ meant tiny little cottages and tiny little bars, which tend to be very
dark and moody with small windows. And when you’re in very enclosed situations, you
have more of an opportunity to develop an interesting frame. Then, as soon as you step
outside, you have these incredible landscapes and seascapes. Also, we were blessed with
some amazing weather on the shoot."
In the end, though, it isn’t the weather or the locations or even the nude bathing
that will make Waking Ned work, reckons Jones: it is the pacing of the comedy. "This
film is a big story in a small community, rather like Local Hero," sums up Jones.
"But the difference is, I’ve tried to up the pace a bit. A worldwide audience
may love the charm and characters of British films, but be put off by their pace.
"it’s a great film and a great story" riter/director Kirk Jones
"I wanted Ned to have all the great qualities of British films but not be too
slow. We also have a few stunts (unexpected as they are) and quite a bit of action. But at
all times these serve the plot. I like to see a story stand up on its own, and I think
people will come and see Waking Ned because it’s a great film and a great
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"I was really looking for an idea
for a short film ... I showed it to a few people in the business, who all agreed it was
too good an idea for a short" Kirk Jones,
"They’re so full of energy.
They ride around on a motorcycle half naked, swim nude in the sea and pull this massive
con. This is not On Golden Pond!" Neil Peplow,
"I haven’t done many nude
scenes in my career, and at my time of life you wouldn’t think there’d be much
demand for them!’ Ian Bannen
"I've tried to up the pace a bit. A worldwide audience may love the charm and characters of British films, but be putt off by their pace" Kirk Jones, writer/director