WAR OF THE BUTTONS. 1994. DIRECTED BY JOHN ROBERTS. STARRING GREGG FITZGERALD, JOHN COFFEY, COLM MEANEY AND JIM BARTLEY. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a terrific Irish drama/adventure film set in County Cork in the 1960’s. Two rival gangs of kids, mostly boys but with a smattering of girls too, spend their days vying for supremacy in the sand dunes, fields and forests of their native Ballydowse and Carrickdowse. You could technically classify it as a kids’ film but adults would definitely appreciate the wit and humour and the whole nostalgia thing it has going on too.
Leader of the Ballys is Fergus, a plucky and spirited young fella from a poor family who gets a hard time at home from his nasty, foul-tempered stepfather. His little gang of Ballys adore him, though, and would follow him into Hell itself if he asked them.
The most he usually requests of them, however, is that they strip down to their birthday suits to ambush the horrified Carricks in Murphy’s Dunes. Nothing so drastic as bearding Lucifer in his den, I can assure you. That’s just one of the many clashes between the two rival gangs, and perhaps the funniest.
The Carricks are led by Jerome, nicknamed Geronimo after the great Indian chief. Geronimo comes from a better-off family than Fergus. In fact, the Carricks in general are better-off than the Ballys and consider themselves a cut above their rivals, who bristle mightily at any suggestion that they’re not as good as their bitter enemies.
The film follows the lads as they fight each other every opportunity they get, which is most afternoons after school if they’re not in detention. The little rapscallions use belts, shoelaces and the titular buttons as the spoils of war. They get into hilarious scrapes involving eggs, raffle tickets, postmen, interesting swear words and tractors. They get in trouble at school and at home and even discover that girls are people too, which is kind of sweet and touching to see.
Their daily conflicts teach them loyalty, leadership, courage, compassion and how to work as a team. They also teach them how to set a rabbit’s broken leg and collect wild mushrooms to sell. The kids already knew how to just have a good laugh and, above all, play good old-fashioned games in the beautiful outdoors.
That’s one of the main things that strikes the viewer about this film. There isn’t an i-Pod, i-Pad, i-Phone, smartphone or laptop in evidence and the kids are all the better for it. They play outdoors from morning till night, when they’re not in school, that is, and they use their i-Nitiatives, i-Maginations and i-Ngenuity every day.
Yes folks, these are three new i-words that the kids of today could maybe do with becoming acquainted with. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound judgemental, but if you want to see kids playing, really playing, like they’re meant to, and like they did before the age of technology came whooshing in, then watch this film. It’ll do your heart good to see it.
Colm Meaney does an achingly funny star turn as Geronimo’s plain-speaking Da. There’s a great musical score by Rachel Portman and the scenery is to die for. The picturesque woods, bridges, streams and fields of County Cork have never looked so good. The ending is a cracker too, when a pair of previously sworn enemies discover that they actually have the capacity to be lifelong friends.
The film is on Irish television every Saint Patrick’s Day without fail, along with THE QUIET MAN (1952), FLIGHT OF THE DOVES (1971) and DARBY 0’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959). I generally watch the four of them in rotation. Two one year and the other two the next. This year (2015), it was the turn of WAR OF THE BUTTONS and THE QUIET MAN. I look forward to seeing them both again in 2017.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at: