The Quiet Girl – movie review

Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl is a deeply affecting work – I had tears running down my cheeks on the final scene.

We’re in rural Ireland in 1981. Cait (Catherine Clinch) (aged 9) is one of five children who keeps to herself, says very little but observes much. There is no love shown to her at home and she is struggling with reading at school. Her father is a lay-about who drinks too much and gambles. Money is scarce. It’s no environment to be brought up in. As summer arrives and with a new baby about to add to this dysfunctional setting, Cait is sent to live with relatives on a farm three hours’ drive away.

Her father drops her off, but all she has are the clothes on her back, because he forgets to take out the suitcase she has packed out. Eibhlin (Carrie Cowley) is a kind and caring woman who takes Cait under her wing and treats her gently. At first, her husband, Sean (Andrew Bennett), appears to want nothing to do with her. But, in time, he gets to greatly appreciate the person Cait is. In a house supposedly where no secrets are kept, there is one dark and painful truth that will unfold.

The Quiet Girl is an Irish-language adaptation of the short story “Foster”, by Claire Keegan.  First published in The New Yorker and named “Best of the Year” by the magazine, it was expanded and published as a standalone book in 2010. Writer-director Bairéad first read Foster in 2018 and decided he would adapt it for the screen. The subject matter – neglect and grief – is beautifully and sensitively handled. That starts with the subtle script and extends to the fine acting. It’s reflected in the striking cinematography by Kate McCullough and musical accompaniment from Stephen Rennicks. Bairéad displays magnificent restraint in his direction.

Catherine Clinch is superb as the quiet and neglected girl, her piercing eyes and gentle demeanour hit the mark perfectly. She is complemented by the four other key figures in the piece. I will long remember the performance of Carrie Cowley as a woman who has much love to give. Andrew Bennett well straddles the arc required of the standoffish husband. Michael Patric captures the brutish, ever-so-menacing father, while the weight of being expected to do it all shows on Kate Nic Chonaonaigh’s face. She plays his long-suffering wife.

This is a film where patience is well rewarded.  The Quiet Girl is a slow moving, but accomplished piece of filmmaking that has understandably claimed many international film festival awards.

Alex First

Other reviews you might enjoy: