It’s the last day of March. So it’s time for my last blog entry about films set in Ireland. My last selection is one of the sharpest comedies ever made. It’s Waking Ned Devine. It’s a witty gem full of colorful characters and is a fun commentary on the underlying greed of ordinary people.
In the Irish village of Tullymore, one of the 52 residents has a winning lottery ticket. But who is the lucky one? Jackie O’ Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’ Sullivan (David Kelly) attempt to discover the winner, along with Jackie’s wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan), They manage to obtain a list of lottery customers through Mrs. Kennedy (Maura O’ Malley). The potential winners are all invited to a chicken dinner. But, at the end of the evening, they are no closer to figuring out the winner’s identity. But Annie has a revelation. Only one customer didn’t attend: Ned Devine. Jackie pays a visit to Ned’s house, discovering him dead from shock with a smile on his face in front of the TV holding the winning ticket. That night, Jackie has a dream that Ned wants to share the winnings with his friends. After all, Ned has no family to claim the winnings.
It is here where Waking Ned Devine shifts into a full-blown screwball comedy. And as far as screwball comedies go, this is one of the best. Jackie and Michael obtain Ned’s personal information so they can claim the money for themselves. When the two of them call the National Lottery to make the claim, an inspector is sent. When the inspector arrives, Jackie stalls him just long enough for Michael to break into Ned’s house so he can dress up like him and pass himself off as the recently deceased man. When it’s revealed that the winnings are more than expected, the whole village is brought into the scheme. Everyone in the village signs a pact to participate. Well, all except local curmudgeon Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey). She threatens to turn them all in for fraud and claim a reward for doing so. She also attempts to blackmail Jackie. Without revealing too much, let’s just say Lizzy’s storyline has a very satisfying ending.
Waking Ned Devine has so many delightful and quirky twists and turns, I dare not list them all here. Seeing the lengths the villagers will go to in order to pull of this ruse is part of what makes it so much fun. There isn’t a dull moment in the 91 minutes of this movie.
While the whole ensemble of actors is delightful in this film, I have to give a shout out to David Kelly who plays Michael. Kelly was a wonderful character actor. Modern audiences no doubt saw him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he stole the show as Grandpa Joe. Kelly is warm and funny. Every second he’s onscreen is delightful. Kelly accumulated 114 screen credits before all was said and done. And he was also a prolific stage actor. It’s downright criminal he was not nominated for an Oscar for Waking Ned Devine.
The film was written and directed by Kirk Jones. The script is clever and really makes getting to know the villagers a lot of fun. By the end of the film, I wanted to live among them. While it’s primarily a comedy, Waking Ned Devine also manages to be moving in what it has to say about friendship and life itself. It’s delightful from start to finish and good on the first and 100th viewings. How many films can make that claim? Not many.