SANCTUARY (Ireland/15A/86mins)
Directed by Len Collin. Starring Amy-Joyce Hastins, Tara Breathnach, Christopher Dunne, Kieran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly
THE PLOT: Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly), two young people with intellectual disabilities, slip away from a group outing to the cinema and, with the help of their carer Tom (Robert Doherty), spend the afternoon together in a Galway hotel. Little do the two young lovebirds know that everyone outside the walls of their sanctuary is looking for them.
THE VERDICT: Based on a play by the Galway-based Blue Teapot Theatre Company, and adapted from one of the Company’s plays, ‘Sanctuary’ is not only sweet and funny, but it touches on issues faced by some of the most invisible people in Irish society today.
The cast do a great job with their roles, although it is probably fair to say that these are not the strongest actors ever seen on screen, there is a warmth to the characters and a genuine believability to their performances. The cast features Stephen Marcus, Amy-Joyce Hastins, Tara Breathnach, Christopher Dunne, Kieran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly.
Screenwriter Christian O’Reilly adapted the screenplay from his own stage play, and allows the cast to develop their characters on screen, and it is clear that the stories we see, the vignettes and little moments, are gleaned from their own experiences. There are many touching moments, some laugh out loud funny ones and, as the film goes on, some darker moments that not only give context to why these two young lovebirds cannot be alone together, but the way they are viewed – or ignored – by the world that they live in.
As director, Len Collin allows the film to take on the feel of a caper, and obviously has fun in allowing the actors to interact with one another on screen. There are times when the timeline of the film feels a little garbled, which leads to the running time feeling rather drawn out, but there are some genuinely touching, funny and moving moments throughout the film.
In all, ‘Sanctuary’ is a lovely, ambitious project that is full of charm and a good story that actually discusses issues, albeit slightly superficially. There is plenty to commend ‘Sanctuary’ however, not least the fact that it brings people who are so often overlooked in society to the front and centre of the film.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Here’s something you don’t see everyday: an Irish film about people with intellectual disabilities that is far more entertaining and engaging than most dramas out there right now.

    Larry (Kieran Coppinger) is in love with Sophie (Charlene Kelly). There’s a problem though: they both have intellectual disabilities. The law forbids them from engaging in consensual sexual relations due to the risk of abuse or an unwanted pregnancy. Kindly careworker Tom (Robert Doherty) looks after them, along with a group of other intellectually disabled people. On a day trip to Galway to go to the cinema, Tom sneaks Larry and Sophie out to a nearby hotel so that they can have some alone time. Tom isn’t aware that Larry wants to go all the way with Sophie though, a fact that also surprises Sophie. Over the course of an afternoon, some life-changing and character-defining events will happen…

    The debut feature of TV writer and actor Len Collin is a genuine delight. That’s mostly down to both well-judged performances and a script by Christian O’Reilly that is smart, warmly fuzzy and non-judgmental about its characters. This is not a polemic against the law, but instead a quiet acknowledgement that people with intellectual disabilities are just that – people. People with emotions, people who feel love and want to give it, people who have a sense of humour, people who are aware enough of their actions. That’s what really shines through here. Larry and Sophie are a touching possible couple. When he fails to woo her, he puts on his dance moves. He’s quite the charmer, more so than some Irish men it seems.

    The sideline stories involving the other intellectually disabled characters are just as engaging: the flirty woman and the shy man, the couple who go shopping and turn into gangsta rappers and best of all: the two none-more-Irish lads who escape from the cinema to go for a pint (or several). The performances, mostly by people with Down’s Syndrome or intellectual disabilities, are excellent. They bring out the humour and warmth in the characters, while retaining their innate kindness and generosity of spirit. The film actually ends too soon, with this reviewer wanting to hang out with these characters for a little longer. A sequel seems unlikely, but a 6-part TV series would be ideal. Sanctuary is another strong entry into current Irish cinema. Seek it out – it may just surprise you. ****