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The Banshees Of Inisherin: BTS Facts Only Huge Fans Know About The Film's History

One of the most talked-about films of 2022 is Martin McDonagh's latest dark comedy, "The Banshees of Inisherin." This film stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who play two friends on a remote Irish island who go through a crisis when one wants to initiate a friendship breakup with the other.

Martin McDonagh is an award-winning filmmaker who has become known for his style of blending absurd and dark humor with serious subject matter, to dazzling effect. One of his most recent projects was 2017's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" which starred Frances McDormand as a mother desperate to find those responsible for the brutal murder of her daughter. It was generally well-received, winning two Academy Awards for the performances of both McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

With "The Banshees of Inisherin," McDonagh is returning to his roots of smaller-scale stories about people going through a mundane crisis with deeper emotional implications. Set during the Irish Civil War of the 1920s, this brutal conflict influenced the history of Ireland for decades and is still the cause of tensions to this day. This may seem like a peculiar setting for a dark comedy about friendship, but it ends up being more than fitting for the subject matter at hand. Read on to find out all the behind-the-scenes facts that only huge fans know about "The Banshees of Inisherin."

Named After Irish Folklore

As far as titles go, "The Banshees of Inisherin" doesn't quite sound like a movie about a friendship gone wrong. Although the name has an explanation within the plot itself as the title of one of Colm's songs (played by Brendan Gleeson), there is also a reference to Irish folklore in its allusion to banshees.

Martin McDonagh is himself of Irish descent and, as a result, imbues many of his movies with aspects of his own culture and heritage. "The Banshees of Inisherin," in particular, is a deeply Irish movie set on a fictional Irish island and starring two critically-acclaimed Irish actors, all set during a critical period in Irish history. It should come as no surprise then that the film's name makes reference to the ancient evil spirits of yore called banshees. A banshee is traditionally a female spirit which, when encountered, serves as an omen of death for a loved one by screeching at an extremely loud volume. This context makes the name surprisingly relevant to the story of these former friends.

The Script Was Written Years Ago

Martin McDonagh's directorial debut came in 2008 with "In Bruges," which starred Colin Farrell and Brandan Gleeson as two aloof hitmen sent to the city of Bruges while awaiting their next target. Since then, fans have long speculated on when the trio would reunite for another absurd comedic adventure but instead, the director ventured in new directions with films like "Seven Psychopaths" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." It turns out, however, that the script for this recent story featuring both Farrell and Gleeson in the leading roles has existed for quite some time.

According to a recent interview with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for Variety, McDonagh has been tweaking and refining the script for "The Banshees of Inisherin" for nearly a decade. Gleeson said, "Ultimately, he didn't want the three of us to come together and blow it. He ultimately has to write this stuff. He had a version of it seven years ago and he wasn't happy with it. Three years ago he had this version and he asked what I thought. But he kind of knew. I know you were a bit nervous about it because it was a little less active." Farrell cheekily added that the director was taking his time in order to "weed the cool" out of all his work, which seems to have failed.

Brendan Gleeson Plays The Fiddle For Real

It's common knowledge that Brendan Gleeson is a talented actor with countless impressive roles throughout his filmography, including as Duncan in "The Tragedy of Macbeth" and Menelaus in "Troy," but apparently his skills go beyond his on-screen performances. It's not uncommon for actors to venture into other art forms such as writing, painting, or music to fully flesh out their creative sensibilities. In the case of Brendan Gleeson, he has become renowned as a genuinely skilled fiddle player.

His character in "The Banshees of Inisherin" is an Irish folk musician named Colm Doherty who multiple times in the film plays the fiddle like a virtuoso. Because Gleeson plays the fiddle in his everyday life, he insisted on playing the film's tunes himself. Composer Carter Burwell touched on this situation during an interview with IndieWire, in which he described the friendly competition he had with Gleeson over developing the actual "The Banshees of Inisherin" fiddle diddy. He explained, "Brendan said, 'Well, let's have Carter write a thing and I'll write a thing and may the best tune win.'" Burwell ultimately never submitted a draft of the song, wanting Gleeson to feel free to take charge of his own character's composing.

Set Right Before End Of The Irish Civil War

History buffs will know that the Irish Civil War was a short but gruesome conflict between 1922 and 1923 that would decide the fate of the island for years to come. It was fought between the government of Ireland (supported by the United Kingdom) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) over the sovereignty of Ireland following their previous war for independence. Overall, the Irish Civil War is seen as an important turning point in Irish history that divided its citizens down political lines, with some hoping to reunify the country one day.

Regardless of politics, the Irish Civil War is undeniably a unique period of history for Martin McDonagh to set his dark comedy film. Although the war serves only as a backdrop to the drama between Pádraic and Colm, the closeness of the story to the war's end adds another layer of ironic absurdity to the low-stakes plot. According to some fans, the entire film is a metaphor for the irrevocable differences of those who were once friends and neighbors.

Features Two Batman Actors

There's no shortage of superhero movies each year, but one of the biggest of 2022 was definitely Matt Reeves' "The Batman." Although it's yet another reimagining of the caped crusader, this time with Robert Pattinson instead of Ben Affleck or Christian Bale, it portrays a version of the brooding hero early into his crime-fighting career. "The Batman" features a star-studded cast of actors, but you may be surprised to learn that two of them reunited for the first time within the small, intimate ensemble cast of "The Banshees of Inisherin."

"The Banshees of Inisherin" stars Colin Farrell in its lead role, but the actor also appeared in a handful of other films in 2022. Earlier in the year, he played the standout role of The Penguin in "The Batman," which required him to wear facial prosthetics and change his accent to the point that many didn't even realize it was him. One of his "Banshees of Inisherin" co-stars is Barry Keoghan, who plays Dominic Kearney, a young man on the island who has a romantic interest in Pádraic's sister. Keoghan also made a small but memorable appearance in "The Batman" as the Joker, who interacts briefly with Paul Dano's Riddler at the end of the film. While these two actors never shared screen time together in "The Batman," they more than made up for that here in "The Banshees of Inisherin."

Originally A Stage Play

Director Martin McDonagh got his start in the entertainment industry not as a filmmaker, but as a playwright. Many of the plays that he wrote early on in his career were set in various locations in Ireland, including County Galway and the Aran Islands. Although he eventually made a successful pivot to screenwriting and filmmaking, there's no doubt that McDonagh excelled at writing for the stage even as a novice young artist.

Interestingly, the origins of this most recent film may have roots in the early days of McDonagh's playwriting, since he initially wrote a piece called "The Banshees of Inisheer." This play was never actually published or performed by anyone, and McDonagh himself insisted that it wasn't very good. It began as the third entry into a series of plays set on the Aran Islands appropriately called the "Aran Islands Trilogy" that started with "The Cripple of Inishmaan" and "The Lieutenant of Inishmore." Ultimately, the film we now get to enjoy has little to do with the play that spawned it other than a similar setting and name.

All The Cast Are Irish

If it isn't already clear after watching, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a thoroughly Irish piece of cinema. Not only is director Martin McDonagh of British-Irish descent and grew up in Galway, but many of the leading actors themselves hail from the same area. The production filmed the majority of the shoot in Ireland, on both the island of Inishmore (the real-life inspiration for the fictional Inisherin) and Achill Island.

As for the cast, they are almost exclusively Irish. Colin Farrell was born in Dublin and has been loud and proud of his background as an Irishman. In fact, he was voted by The Irish Times as the 5th greatest Irish actor of all time (falling behind only Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Maureen O'Hara). Brendan Gleeson too is from Dublin and has become an icon of Irish excellence, since he seems to have a genuine passion for Irish folklore and music. Other Irish members of "The Banshee of Inisherin" cast include Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Bríd Ní Neachtain, and Pat Shortt.

Colin Farrell Had Animal Issues While Filming

It isn't always easy working with animals when making a movie — anyone who works in Hollywood can tell you that. Nonetheless, sometimes having a trained animal actor be part of the movie can truly enhance the experience if they're crucial to the story, like the spooky wolfdog from "The Thing" which perfectly behaves like a shapeshifting alien. In the case of "The Banshees of Inisherin," it turns out that even seemingly harmless animals can cause trouble.

This movie features the acting talent of a beautiful donkey named Jenny, the beloved pet of Colin Farrell's character, Pádraic. While the two have a loving on-screen relationship, it doesn't sound like that dynamic extended to behind-the-scenes moments. According to an interview with Empire, Jenny apparently kicked Farrell at some point during filming when he made her a bit uncomfortable. Farrell explained by saying, "It was her first film, but she acted like it was her 100th. She was kind of over it. Kind of jaded." He then added, "She didn't like her nose being touched, I found out. She kicked me in the knee. But that was my fault. I got too close to her."

Barry Keoghan And Colin Farrell Were Roommates While Filming

It's not always glamorous hotels or well-stocked trailers for actors, especially when they're involved in slightly lower-budget filmmaking. That's what happened during the production of "The Banshees of Inisherin," since apparently, lead actor Colin Farrell had to bunk up with co-star Barry Keoghan during filming.

Barry Keoghan And Colin Farrell became unlikely roommates as they shared a living space within a house, where the two would cause harmless trouble for one another. During an interview for "The Late Late Show" (the Irish one, not the American one), Farrell jokingly teased his one-time roommate for having bad hygiene. He said, "He lived with me during the film and you know, I'd come in the morning and the place was like raccoons had been there — I'm not joking." The star also gave Keoghan a shoutout during his recent Golden Globe acceptance speech for his role in "The Banshees of Inisherin" by mentioning an anecdote involving cereal. He said, "Barry, when you're sharing a house with an actor you're working with, a word of advice Barry, don't eat his crunchy cornflakes and leave him with no breakfast in the morning. Okay, you should never send a man to work in an empty belly."

McDonagh Wrote It For The Actors

Speaking of the Golden Globes, the film ended up winning the 2023 award for best screenplay for a motion picture, which allowed director Martin McDonagh a chance to speak to a crowd of industry insiders. After making an opening joke about how he wrote the film for Jenny the Donkey and Minnie the Horse (the two animals featured in the movie), he went on to reveal a hidden truth behind his motivations for writing "The Banshees of Inisherin."

In his speech, McDonagh admitted that he wrote the film specifically for the lead actors, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The history of the relationship between these three men goes all the way back to their first film together, 2008's "In Bruges" and has grown into a personal friendship that shines brightly throughout his speech. He said, "I love you, as you know, for your brilliance on screen and your kindness off-screen," before having to clear his throat from emotion. It's that kind of genuine expression of friendship that makes the story of "The Banshees of Inisherin" that much more impactful for audiences.

Martin McDonagh Wanted To Avoid Irish Music

It's been hammered home just how Irish this movie is, but that doesn't mean that Martin McDonagh wanted to go overboard with it. The critically-acclaimed writer and director apparently drew the line at the film's soundtrack as the point where things needed to be a little less Irish. According to the film's composer, Carter Burwell, he was explicitly told why traditional Irish music wasn't going to work for "The Banshees of Inisherin," despite the overwhelmingly Irish setting, cast, and story. 

During an interview with Variety, he said that McDonagh told him, "I hate that deedle-dee, old world Irish film music" and instead demanded something more contemporary that would fit the characters on screen. In another piece by The Wrap, he added more context by saying, "It clearly touched a nerve of some sort, so I never brought that up again. But it wasn't obvious what else it should be, so I waited until I saw some of the footage before I even started thinking about it again."

A Local Woman Made All The Sweaters

While Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson kill it on screen for "The Banshees of Inisherin," you could argue that the film's real stars are the assortment of cozy-looking sweaters worn by all the characters. While the wardrobe looks straight out of a catalog of 1920s casual wear, it turns out that all the sweaters seen in the movie were hand-knit by a local 80-year-old who worked closely with lead designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh.

According to a piece by Vanity Fair, Delia Barry created all the sweaters for the film without ever having met the lead stars or even visiting the set. Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh went into detail about how much the actors loved their outfits while also singing praises of her elderly companion. She said, "Brendan loved [the sweaters] so much, she's been knitting jumpers for him since Christmas. He sends her cards ... and she's just adorable. She knit the one for Barry Keoghan and Colin's red one with the collar." It's that kind of old-school quality that only a wonderful local artist like Delia Barry could create.