THE QUEEN OF IRELAND (Ireland/15A/86mins)
Directed by Conor Horgan. Starring Rory O’Neill, Mark O’Halloran, Una Mullally, Declan Buckley, Tonie Walsh.
THE PLOT: Filmmaker Conor Horgan began making a documentary about performer Rory O’Neill – perhaps better known as his drag persona Panti Bliss – in 2010. The film follows O’Neill as he looks back over his life, as the furore surrounding his 2014 appearance on the Saturday Night Show takes off, and through the campaign for a yes vote in the Marriage Equality referendum earlier this year.
THE VERDICT: There is little doubt that Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss is one of Ireland’s most gifted, outspoken and vibrant performers, but the story that emerges throughout The Queen of Ireland is of a young gay man from a small town, trying to find a place he feels at home in an Ireland where homosexuality has not yet been decriminalised. O’Neill is frank and funny throughout the entire film, as well as being wonderfully self aware of his self appointed role; “My job as a drag queen is to commentate from the fringes, to stand on the outside looking in shouting abuse”.
The film charts O’Neill’s life from his childhood through his time at art college, his move to Tokyo and how it felt to come back to Ireland when being gay was no longer a crime – homosexuality was officially decriminalised in Ireland in 1993. In telling his own personal story, O’Neill charts modern history in Ireland, and the changes that the country has gone through in the past 20-30 years. Yes, the film is told through O’Neill’s life, but it could easily be told through the eyes of any young gay person growing up in Ireland, and this is what makes the film so special, and so relatable.
The second half of ‘The Queen of Ireland’ focuses on the Pantigate affair and the fallout from this. Although there is a moment where those unaware of what actually happened could be confused, it is clear that the filmmakers found themselves in a bind, and could not be seen to repeat the statements made by O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show without opening themselves up to legal action. This does mean that the event is not fully explained, but the fact that this led to Panti accidentally becoming, in her words, a “National F***ing Treasure” and the accidental face of the Marriage Equality Campaign means that it lends some context to the film.
The film is filled with faces from O’Neill’s life; his parents, sister and friend Niall Sweeney appear, as well as LGBT Rights Activist Tonie Walsh, actor and screenwriter Mark O’Halloran, journalist Una Mulally and fellow drag queen Declan Buckley, also known as Shirley Temple Bar. These people not only give an insight into O’Neill as a person, but also into life in Ireland as gay people, and just what a yes vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum could mean for Ireland and Irish people.
In all, ‘The Queen of Ireland’ is not only the captivating story of a hilarious and honest performer, but it is also the story of Ireland over the past number of years. O’Neill is frank, hilarious and engaging at the centre of the film, but the thing that makes ‘The Queen of Ireland’ truly special is the feeling that while this is the story of Panti, it is also the story of everyone who lives in Ireland, and the change we brought about when we galvanised behind, as O’Neill puts it, a man in a dress who has no fear of saying the unsayable. ‘The Queen of Ireland’ has a couple of wobbles here and there, but is, on the whole, a moving, engaging and honest piece of work.
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Queen of Ireland
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • emerb

    While 2015 has been a great year for Irish movies, “Queen of Ireland” stands out for me as the best one. Directed by Conor Horgan, it is quite unlike any other film in our recent history as it not only entertains but also informs us. The film documents the life of Rory O’Neill from childhood in Ballinrobe through the birth of the flamboyant Panti Bliss, ‘Pantigate’, the global attention of the recent Marriage Equality Referendum and Panti’s return to back to Ballinrobe. It tells us the triumphant tale of how Panti became a symbol for marriage equality, progress, inspiration and change for the people of Ireland. Horgan had been working on the documentary has since 2010 but it all gathered momentum in recent times after the famous Panti speech and of course the resounding yes vote last May.

    “Queen of Ireland” is a wonderful and bravely told story where O’Neill is not afraid to speak his mind openly and candidly. Rory gives us an honest and full picture of the realities of what it was like to be a homosexual in the ’80s and early ’90s and some of it is really shocking. His interviews are deeply personal, moving and emotional and this movie gives us a chance to share in his story as it unfolded from the very beginning. We start with some home video footage of Rory playing in the garden with his siblings in Co. Mayo, far from the bright lights of the drag scene in London and Tokyo which followed in the years after. Rory was happy at home but realised he was in some way different. This feeling of isolation led to a happy escape to boarding school and then a decision to attend art school where he came into the world of gay night clubs and the early underground scene in Dublin and beyond. Essentially the film gives us two parallel stories, one of Rory as he explores his homosexuality and the creation of “Panti”, who would become an inspiration to so many. The second is a timeline of the gay scene in Ireland and the realities of what it was like to be a homosexual in the 80’s and 90’s when the act was still criminalised. We witness the events of January 2014 when Rory gave an interview on The Saturday Night Show on the subject of homophobia and the subsequent controversy which ignited ‘Pantigate” and the “Noble Call” speech Panti made on the Abbey Theatre stage that would echo around the globe in the following days.

    The film reaches its logical climax with that historical moment in our nation’s history – the 2015 gay marriage referendum, which will continue to move generations in the years ahead and remind us what a truly momentous occasion it was. While the true extent and implications of the of that triumphant yes vote on our society haven’t yet fully been realised, it’s important that we are aware of both its importance and its relevance to every aspect of Irish life. We have people like Panti Bliss to thank for this fantastic and important result and it should give us cause to celebrate with pride for many years to come.

    What makes this film such a resounding success is not only the engaging and thought provoking subject matter but also O’Neill’s gift for being candid and comical, entertaining, funny and insightful. He is clearly an intelligent and quick witted chap and this is evident every time he speaks. Horgan’s direction and editing is top class. He skilfully blends both the personal and the political and captures captures history in the making through the eyes of a unique individual. “Queen of Ireland” has so many important thinfs to say about modern society and I would recommend it to everybody. It is both powerful and at times poignant but superbly well made, timely and hugely entertaining. This movie is a pleasant reminder of what a happy ending was finally achieved last May. How things have changes in such a relatively short time frame….

  • Randy

    While I enjoyed the film and love Panti very much, the film seemed to hardly touch the surface of the legend, recapping on Panti’s/Rory’s events so far in a typical by-the-book documentary fashion. While I enjoyed it, I expected more – to feel the excitement of the underground gay scene in Dublin, the panache of Tokyo…The film is enjoyable and it shines in the last act as Rory prepares for a show in his hometown and there are wonderful moments at home with his parents, bit at 86 mins it is barely a feature, more of a made-for-TVdocumentary. I guess I’ll need to read “Woman in the Making” for the thrills. 3/5

  • Louise Corrigan

    I learnt plenty I previously wasn’t fully aware of while it really encapsulates the feeling and views of the Irish during the referendum. An interesting look into the life of a very interesting person, during a period I’m happy to say I lived through.