Waking Ned Devine

Tullymore is a small village in Ireland, one of those quaint seaside hamlets filled with colorful characters and a colorful past. There are 53 residents of Tullymore, and like the residents of every small town, they know each other’s business. You can’t keep a secret in Tullymore, or can you?


It seems that one of the residents of Tullymore has won the National Lottery, yet no one has stepped forward to claim the prize. Dying of curiosity, Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen), his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) set a trap for the reclusive winner.

They host a chicken dinner for everyone who played the lottery, and during the course of the meal, interrogate everyone until they have a suspect. The evening proves a bust until Annie discovers that she has one chicken breast left over. That meant one guest was a no show. A quick perusal of their list if suspects points to Ned Devine.

Jackie and Michael rush over to Ned’s house, where they find him sitting in front of his television, dead. Clutched in his hand is the winning lottery ticket. Since Ned has no known living relatives, Jackie and Michael realize that the money will go back to the lottery.

Jackie and Michael’s plan to take the ticket hits a roadblock when they discover that Ned signed the ticket, meaning that only he can redeem it. That leaves Jackie and Michael with only one solution: one of them will have to pretend to be Ned. Since no one outside of Tullymore has ever seen Ned Devine, the men agree that the charade should be easy to pull off.

It is agreed that Michael will pretend to be Ned, much to the dismay of Annie, who suspects that the men’s fraud will land them in prison. When the lottery official shows up, everything goes smoothly until he informs Ned that before he can issue the check, he will need to talk with the locals and make sure that he is really Ned Devine.

Now Jackie and Michael have to let the whole town in on the con, and agree to split up the winnings equally among them if they play along. Can an entire village con a big city lottery official? When the prize is almost 8 million pounds, they’ll give it their best shot.

That’s the premise of writer-director Kirk Jones’ debut, a winning combination of small village charm and big hearted grins. Steeped in historic scenery and colorful characters, “Waking Ned Devine” is a delight from the first frame to the last.

Jones wisely allows us to warm up to the characters before forcing them to jump through hoops. It’s important that we get to know and trust these people, because whether we like it or not, we become co-conspirators with them. We get to know these people so well that it’s easy for us to understand their motivations and honor their traditions.

The script is rich in local color and spirit. “Waking Ned Devine” isn’t really a comedy as it is a lighthearted drama about people caught up in something so outrageous it becomes comical. Even at it’s most playful, “Waking Ned Devine” never seems contrived. You completely play into the fantasy.

As a first time director, Jones shows incredible savvy behind the camera. He doesn’t just know where to put the camera, he knows the best place to put it. “Waking Ned Devine” is filled with memorable images and performances.

There isn’t a bad performance in the film, but it’s David Kelly as Michael O’Sullivan who stands out. This veteran Irish actor has always had presence, but the level he achieves here is priceless. Whether he’s drowning his sorrows at the local pub or riding a motorcycle bareback, Kelly commands the screen. Thanks to Kelly, O’Sullivan is the type of person you would not only want to know, but would instantly like.

I like the way Jones and the cast have created a sense of community. Not once do you ever suspect that these people haven’t been together all their lives. That’s the kind of love and respect that shows in the performances of Ian Bannen and Fionnula Flanagan as Jackie and Annie O’Shea. They feel married.

The relationship between Bannen and Kelly is also timeless. You sense these gentlemen have been friends all their lives. There’s a playful romance brewing between Maggie (the delightful Susan Lynch), and pig farmer Pig Finn (James Nesbitt, as much of a rascal as he can be). Maggie is attracted to Finn, she just can’t stand the smell of him. That leaves plenty of leverage for these two, which Jones explores with much humor and sexual heat.

“Waking Ned Devine” serves as proof that you don’t need cinematic flourishes to keep an audience entertained. All you need is engaging, interesting characters who do engaging, interesting things. “Waking Ned Devine” has both.

“DEVINE” HITS LAUGHTER LOTTERY

WAKING NED DEVINE

Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch and James Nesbitt in a film directed by Kirk Jones. Rated PG. 91 Min.

LARSEN RATING: $8



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