Directed by Pearse Elliott, starring Robert Carlyle, Gillian Anderson, Tyrone McKenna and Ken Stott.
Set in post-ceasefire Belfast, 'The Mighty Celt' makes a play for originality by being one of the first screenplays that deals with Northern Irish lives free from the balaclava and the bullet. But if timing is crucial, so too is substance. This might have the first, but it certainly lacks the second.
14-year-old Donal (McKenna) lives with his mother Kate (Anderson). In his spare time he works for local dog trainer and hardline republican Good Joe (Stott). The latter is initially portrayed as a surrogate father to Donal, teaching the youngster the discipline, patience and guile necessary for training greyhounds. Kate, harried and desensitised by the Troubles, prizes her son above all else but is attempting to forge a relationship after years of single motherhood. There have been a few false starts, but now, into the picture wanders O (Carlyle). A reformed IRA man, O is back in Belfast after years on the run and is determined to start putting his life above the cause.
If this film has anything new to say it is with the character of O who presents us with the peculiar picture of the 'new IRA man' – a creature who vacuums his house in fluffy slippers while retaining the menacing presence of a hitman when necessary. O served with Donal's uncle on the day he died, and it's clear that he and Kate also have a history. But as O and Kate attempt to come to terms with the past, Donal's hopes for the future are bound up in the potential of the gifted greyhound of the film's title.
'The Mighty Celt' is a patchy effort at capturing the flavour of post-Troubles Northern Ireland – one where old loyalties remain, while a relentlessly upbeat political climate denies its recent past. The dog storyline, frankly, is a messily executed distraction from the main thread of the story. But with the performances the film fares much better. Anderson's attempt at the laryngeal gymnastics necessary to capture northern vowel sounds is nothing short of heroic; Carlyle is beyond reproach as the understated and likeable O, while McKenna is superb as the young lead.
Woody Allen once said "80% of success is turning up". Well, 'The Mighty Celt' disproves that theory. Elliott deserves applause for making an honest attempt to show modern Belfast life, but success? Not really. You'd be better off at the dog track.