Directed by Cathal Black, starring Greta Scacchi, Daniel Craig, Stephen Dillane, Valerie Edmond and Donal Donnelly.
Set on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland at the end of the 19th century, Cathal Black's 'Love and Rage' takes as its inspiration the true-life relationship between Agnes MacDonnell, a wealthy English landlady, and James Lynchehaun, an Achill native.
Finally garnering a limited cinema release three years after its world premiere at the 1999 Dublin Film Festival, Black's film strikes the keynote early on when MacDonnell, with her first impression of Lynchehaun, describes him as "wild and animal-looking". It's a remark that, at this stage, is uttered in primal attraction to Lynchehaun's feral sexuality, but the relevance of its literal connotation becomes increasingly and painfully obvious to MacDonnell as the film progresses.
After the scheming Lynchehaun succeeds in securing a job as MacDonnell's holdings emissary, the film concentrates on the sexual tension bubbling between landlady and agent; a tension borne out on the vagaries of abuse and emotional larceny rather than any semblance of healthy passion. And, of course, it's a tension that will lead to tragic consequences.
The most galling thing about 'Love and Rage' is its failure to capitalise on the fascinating and highly dramatic source material. Admittedly, the true-life story varies depending on what side of the divide you speak to. However, one thing is agreed upon: when the paths of James Lynchehaun and Agnes MacDonnell crossed, it provided a hellish concoction of sex, betrayal and grotesque violence, all played out against the backdrop of their opposing political and personal circumstances. So why is this so dull?
A plodding narrative and anodyne script don't help, but the main problem seems to be in the characterisation of the most important character in the whole piece, Lynchehaun. As played by English actor Daniel Craig, Lynchehaun comes across as an evil cartoon figure with seductive allure. He has the physical presence, but the sense of menace crucial to a credible depiction of Lynchehaun is more hammy than sinister. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the less said about Craig's West of Ireland accent the better.
More impressive in their roles are Greta Scaachi as MacDonnell, and Stephen Dillane as the inhibited island doctor, who also narrates the film. Scaachi is the standout, imbuing the character of MacDonnell with a fiery zest, unafraid to challenge authority but yet always outwardly conscious of her gentrified origins.
Ultimately though, 'Love and Rage' makes no worthwhile attempt to debunk the myth of James Lynchehaun, and comes across as a confused and ultimately dull addition to the canon of films that have tried and failed to evince rural Irish life accurately. A squandered opportunity.