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Waking Ned (1998)

CRUMBLIES… 5 crumblies….1 crumblie  YEAH. WENT THERE.

At last! The perfect film for this gilded cage of crumblies and early-onsetters. Waking Ned is terrific! Funny, warm, characterful and stuffed with twinkling actors at the top of their game. Old Jack is changing the rota: we’re watching this every three months until we’re all gone. Oh, but it’s good, y’gobshite.

Ian Bannen and David Kelly are best buddies Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan. They are happy, naughty old men who bring a spark of comedy to every scene. Beautiful perfomances both, we all laughed along at their cheek and chirp.

Bannen’s O’Shea catches the news that someone in the village has won the mighty Irish lottery – and there are only 52 people in the village. In a cascade of charm and obviousness, the old men suspect one another and buy pints and compliments, then open up O’Shea’s house to a party to investigate properly. No-one admits to unnatural wealth and then the penny drops: only Ned Devine missed the party.

Bannen and Kelly, a glorious double-act, nip over to Ned’s house and find him frozen in bed with rictus joy and a winning ticket in hand. Old Jack was in tears as they hatched their plan to impersonate Ned, but not before nicking the ticket and rearranging his face to remove its suspicious grin of triumph. Dentures pop out and Bannen and Kelly fight their own laughter to stick them back in and shut Ned’s eyes. Now there’s a Celtic scene if ever there was one.

The supporting cast of villagers – Irishly cheery or mean and moody – make this a joy. They march along behind Fionnula Flanagan as Annie O’Shea in full-on character-crowd mode. She is lovely – and for once not terrifying – as the supporter and tolerator of Bannen’s mischief. Loved her.

Also present, in a leavening sub-plot for the younger generation of Tully More, are James Nesbitt as Pig Finn (works with them, smells of them…) and Susan Lynch as his love interest. She’s a single-mum, wildly, gorgeously Irish, in love with him, but deeply resistant to the smell of pig. They bounce off each other in scenes of cheery dialogue and fruity soap. It’s like Heathcliff and Cathy with a sense of humour. Loved them too.

The feel-good delight runs through every part of Waking Ned. The TV room was rocking as the lottery man turns up and Kelly and Bannen dash around in varied forms of old-man nudity, on beaches and scooters, before jumping hip-deep into the fraud itself. A dash of moral guilt and the impossibility of hiding the truth makes them take the whole village into the conspiracy: for seven million split by 52 is still a lovely number.

I’m going to say twinkle a lot, for the eyes are a-sparkling. Bannen and Kelly are past masters, but the lot of them are at it. Nesbitt and Lynch twinkle from love. Flanagan twinkles from tolerance and knowing judgement. The wicked old woman of the village, Eileen Dromey as Lizzy (Boo! Hiss!) Quinn, zooms off through the countryside on her motorised wheelchair of doom, twinkling from evil. Even Jimmy Keogh, as the very dead Ned, does it in cadaver form.

And, for a beautiful moment at a funeral, Bannen delivers a wonderful eulogy to friendship. There were slight smiles and twinkling eyes around me.

Honestly, this is the best pick-me-up old Jack has seen in ages. Folk my age are playing mischief (okay, fraudlulent dissemblers, but feck off y’gobshite) and ruling the story. And they win! And there are laughs, unexpected plot reveals and a perfectly timed ending mixing cold fate with comedy with eulogy. Director-writer Kirk Jones produced a perfect first film. He had Nanny McPhee and Everybody’s Fine in his future, gems (nearly) both, and old Jack may just bang those on should there be resistance the fifteenth time through Waking Ned. Jones knows what he’s doing.

Now, forgive me, it’s time to get the massed decrepits off their zimmers and skinny dipping in the lake. They can fight me, but I shall defeat them with twinkly repartée and devilish good humour. That’s my new forté.

Watch Waking Ned, or, if you’re in the States, watch Waking Ned Devine. You will love it to the parting glass.

So there.

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