THE FLAG – Behind The Scenes on the new Pat Shortt comedy

Moving into comedy with Pat Shortt by your side is a wise move. talks to Declan Recks, director of The Flag.

Inspired by producer Rob Walpole’s own family tale, ‘The Flag’ is director Declan Recks’ first foray into comedy. If you don’t count three episodes of TV’s ‘Mystic Knights of Tir Na nOg’ way back in 1999.

“Yeah, well, from this safe distance, I can say there are certainly some laughs to be had there,” nods the man who most recently gave us the Northern Ireland drama ‘The Truth Commissioner’. “Part of the attraction here was the fact that I hadn’t directed an out-and-out comedy before. As a director, you’re always looking to do something that you haven’t one before, and having Eugene O’Brien write the script – we’d worked together on Eden too – meant it wasn’t a total leap into the dark.”

In ‘The Flag’, Pat Shortt plays down-at-heel sad sack Harry Hambridge, home from London for his father’s funeral, head hanging almost as low as that of his failed jockey nephew, Mouse (Moe Dunford), the latter having always looked up to his wild-eyed uncle. For both of them though, that was then, and this is now.

When the claim that Harry’s late grandfather raised the Irish flag over the GPO during the 1916 Rising is laughed out the door by the local barman, a drunk Harry declares that he will defend his family’s honour by retrieving the very flag in question, and bringing it back to this very pub.

Only trouble is, the flag is hanging in the mess hall of a British army barracks. And there’s also the strong possibility that the flag doesn’t actually exist. And that his grandfather may have been spinning yarns.

Add to that Harry’s morning-after decision that it might be best to slink back to London with his tail between his legs, only to be strong-armed into seeing the challenge through by the wide-eyed Mouse, and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a classic buddy-buddy heist caper.

“There are very definite cliches at work here,” says Recks, “and what we’ve tried to do is have as much fun with them as possible. We’re not trying to make a Mamet comedy here. We’re not going down the path of using comedy to explore the inner workings of the Irish male’s dark, troubled soul. We want audiences to laugh. Bottom line.”

The laughs in ‘The Flag’ are largely down to the comic genius that is Pat Shortt, although Dunford – so powerful in Terry McMahon’s ‘Patrick’s Day’ – keeps pace with the old comedy pro, gag for gag.

“Having Pat was a huge part of this film getting made,” says Recks. “He’s one of our finest actors, and can handle drama just as well as comedy. Which is crucial here, because you have to believe that Harry has reached the bottom, that his world has collapsed, before you head off on this ridiculous heist caper with him. We wanted to have both happening here, and having someone like Pat there gave us that luxury.

“And the same goes with Moe. It’s early days, but already you can see that this guy can do anything. I’m guessing audiences won’t initially click that this is the same young actor from Patrick’s Day, for example, because the two roles are worlds apart. I think Moe is going to be with us for a very long time…”

Shortt’s presence will no doubt be the carrot to attract audiences to see the film, and the poster and its accompanying publicity campaign and trailer sees Walpole aiming clearly for some more of that ‘Man About Dog’ box-office action.

“It has always been hard to sell Irish films to Irish audiences,” finishes Recks, “but, just as the film have gotten better, so have audiences. There have been some remarkable Irish films this year, and some truly great dramas and comedies on Irish TV, and I think we’re getting to the point now where audiences are only concerned with the concept, the idea, the kick that any particular story has.

“It’s a thrilling circle. The more Irish hits out there, the more chances Irish writers, filmmakers and actors have to tell their stories. Now, if we can just get the budgets to match the enthusiasm…”

The Flag hits Irish screens Friday October 14th
Words – Paul Byrne