An Irish-language film has shattered box office records in Ireland and the UK and become a standard-bearer for a language seldom seen on the big screen.
The Quiet Girl has astonished the industry by quadrupling the previous record for an Irish language film, and by last week earning more than €610,000 (£518,000) since its release in mid-May.
The success is deemed all the more surprising because it is a coming-of-age drama with no famous actors, by a first-time director.
“It has surpassed all projections,” said Robert McCann Finn, co-founder of Breakout Pictures, the film’s Irish distributor.
Directed by Colm Bairéad, and based on the New Yorker story turned novella Foster by Claire Keegan, the film follows a 10-year-old girl who is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in County Waterford for a summer in the early 1980s . It has won multiple awards and rave reviews from critics. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it a jewel.
Such garlands, however, did not prepare its makers for popularity with audiences. “The response, particularly in Ireland, has really struck a chord,” said Bairéad. “It’s appealing across generations. Young people and people in their later years who haven’t been to the cinema in years – this has brought them back.”
Since its release in mid-May, An Cailín Ciúin, as it is known in Irish, has been shown at about 70 cinemas on the island of Ireland and about 30 in Britain.
The previous highest grossing Irish-language film was Arracht, a Great Hunger-era drama that earned €164,000 in the UK and Ireland last year.
Audiences in Britain have been a mix of Irish expatriates and people with no ties to Ireland, said Jake Garriock, head of distribution strategy for Curzon, the film’s British distributor. “The UK number is better than a good chunk of the films that played in Cannes last year. Even for a foreign language title it’s incredibly impressive.”
The Quiet Girl is Curzon’s first ever Irish language film – not that it previously had much choice. Until 2017 the total number of live-action Irish language feature films – spanning the entire history of cinema – was four.
Since 2019, however, five feature films have been made under the banner of Cine4, a collaboration between Screen Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and TG4, an Irish language public service broadcaster. Arracht and The Quiet Girl each cost €1.2m.
The next to reach cinemas, in September, will be Róise & Frank, a lighthearted, feelgood story about a widow who believes her husband has been reincarnated as a dog.
A Quiet Girl underlines Ireland’s creative talent, said Désirée Finnegan, Screen Ireland’s chief executive. “It really feels like a new horizon for Irish-language cinema and a beautiful expression of our national culture on screen.”
Few people in Ireland speak Irish on a daily basis and some resent it – a legacy of being forced to learn it through a stilted school curriculum. That is changing, said McCann Finn. “There is a whole new generation who love the language. You’d hope that it’s the start of something.”
Distributors plan to eventually transition A Quiet Girl to a streaming platform and to promote it for Baftas and Oscars.
“We’re still in the middle of the whirlwind,” said Cleona Ní Chrualaoi, the film’s producer. Audiences will soon have the chance to see other Irish language films that are in development and production, she said. “I think the wave will continue.”