The director Gerry Stembridge came to prominence in the late 1980s as one half of the Scrap Saturday radio programme with the late Dermot Morgan. His subsequent film career includes the Celtic Tiger romantic comedy About Adam but he first made the dark drama Guiltrip. This film stars Jasmine Russell as Tina and Andrew Connolly as Liam, her controlling husband who is an army corporal in a garrison town. The drama unfolds over one day in flashback, as the couple argue that night.
The structure of the narrative is perhaps the strongest aspect of the film. The flashback device gradually ratchets up the tension and slowly reveals the story. In some ways this is also the film's undoing as the way the drama unfolds the audience may already be a step ahead as the film's denouement is a little disappointing and predictable. To structure a film this way the story and actions must be strong but unfortunately the story is too slight. The acting from the main couple, particularly Connolly is excellent. Special mention must also go to Peter Hanly as hi-fi salesman Ronnie, initially shown as dimwitted and gormless, but is revealed to be both a tragic figure and one who is central to the whole story. Hanly is the revelation of the film in the less showy role.
The film also lacks strong direction with the look and staging of the film both flat and lifeless. Unfortunately this gives the film a TV movie aspect and does it no favours when compared to other feature films of the time such as I Went Down. It is also a film that has dated badly with smoking in bars and the new technology of the CD being central to the story. The soundtrack to the film is one of its worse aspects, with it being played almost exclusively on a very intrusive harmonica when surely something a little quieter and refined was needed to compliment the story.
It is also interesting to note that this film was made at a time when divorce in Ireland had still not been introduced. Looking at the relationship of the main protagonists and the controlling abuse that takes place, it adds an extra layer to the story. It shows how difficult it was to get out of relationships like this in the time before divorce.
This being a film from Stembridge, with his background, there is some dark humour to be found. One noteworthy scene in the film sees Tina having to explain in minute detail to Liam her movements and whereabouts that day. She tells him she bought groceries and he asks her to name what she bought, she does and he stops her when she says hob nobs. A conversation then takes place as to whether they have had a conversation about hob nobs before. This scene, tension filled with the controlling voice of Liam also wrings every uncomfortable laugh that is to be found from such banal a subject as hob nobs.
Overall this is a disappointing film. Well acted, well structured but it is simply the case that the characters are not developed enough to make them worth caring about and this is vital in such a slight story.
Regular readers of my blog will probably know what is coming next and will not be surprised to learn that this film is not available to buy on DVD. Instead of ranting again about this, I would like to point out that I saw this on the Setanta Ireland sports channel who have been showing Irish films over the summer in association with the Irish Film Board. Kudos to them and one hopes that this will become a year round event.