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A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance

Novelist and playwright William Trevor was one of the finest writers of his generation and is, perhaps, most fondly remembered for the TV adaptation of his much-loved short story, The Ballroom of Romance. Eugene O'Brien and Éamon Little explore this iconic TV film (2016)

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3.9/5 (132 ratings)

Documentary Maker: Éamon Little

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Documentary Maker: Eugene O'Brien

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A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance

'Long before "Strictly Come Dancing" and "Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels" there was RTE's TV drama, "Ballroom of Romance" and the line, "will you come into the field, Bridie?"

The radio documentary, "A Backwards Glance at the Ballroom of Romance" is a 30-year old love letter from a teenage boy to a TV film.

The writers of the love letter are Eugene O'Brien, who went on to become a successful playwright and screenwriter ("Pure Mule" & "Eden") and his friend, filmmaker Éamon Little ("Living Colour" & "Red Mist.")

"Ballroom of Romance" was broadcast on RTE and BBC 30 years ago, in December 1982.

It was adapted from a short story by William Trevor and was directed by Pat O'Connor who went on to direct the film versions of Maeve Binchy's "Circle of Friends", Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa", and others.

The film tells of a group of dancers at a rural dance who are there in search of love, companionship or a few moments in 'the field' on the way home. The main character, played by Brenda Fricker, is farmer's daughter, 'Bridie', who, by fate and circumstance, is denied love and marriage.

Eugene says, "It is a beautifully-observed, tender, funny but sad study of one night in this woman's life and of the community she lives in. "

Also, "I believe, it features the best ensemble entirely-Irish cast ever put together."

Seven years after, "Ballroom of Romance", Brenda Fricker won an Oscar for "My left Foot" but, according to Eugene O'Brien, "Ballroom of Romance" is "her finest screen performance".

The rest of the classic ensemble included, John Kavanagh as 'Bowser' Egan, with his drunken, 'cowboy' compadres, Niall Toibin and Joe Pilkington.

Mick Lally as the drummer Bridie thinks she might have a chance with; Cyril Cusack who organises the dance under the banner "For God and The Happy Homes of Ireland";

Pat Leavy as 'Madge Dowding', sneered at for being too old for the dance but still going in the hopes of getting lucky.

The cast also included Brid Brennan, Ingrid Cragie, Brendan Conroy and Anita Reeves, amongst others.

Eugene O'Brien, has been passionate about "Ballroom of Romance" since he first saw it in 1982, when he was fifteen. He has seen it hundreds of times. "I can quote whole scenes from the movie", he says.

Eugene made this radio documentary with fellow 'Ballroom' enthusiast, Éamon Little, a film-maker who has connections to the Ballycroy area of Mayo, where filming for 'Ballroom' took place.

In the documentary, Éamon brings Eugene to visit the original ballroom used in the film. Eugene walks through the, now dilapidated, hall.

They meet local sheep farmer, Pat Gallagher who played 'The Man with the Long Arms' in the film.

A few weeks ago (August 2012), Pat Gallagher and others organised a dance to commemorate the thirty years since the film was broadcast.

At that dance, Eugene and Eamon talked with the band and with the dancers, many of them local people. "We wanted to hear whether the themes in the film were part of their own experiences. Like, looking for love, emigration, the realities of the land."

The documentary also captures the effect the actual film-making had on the people of the area.

From the beginning, "Ballroom of Romance" made an impact on audiences.

It secured a place as a jewel of Irish film culture and launched the international career of director, Pat O'Connor.

"A Backwards Glance at the Ballroom of Romance" wonders why a film about lost love in a rural dancehall was so significant. As Eugene O'Brien says, "We wanted to find out why, 30 years later, 'Ballroom of Romance' remains so dear to our hearts and why, although we saw it as teenagers, we have never ever ever forgotten it."

Originally Broadcast September 15th 2012

"A Backwards Glance At The Ballroom of Romance" was made by Éamonn Little and Eugene O'Brien.

Production assistance was by Ronan Kelly.

First Broadcast Saturday December 3rd @2pm, RTÉ Radio 1

Repeat Sunday December 4th @7pm, RTÉ Radio 1

Available online Friday December 2nd

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

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