Directed by Gillies Mackinnon. Starring Albert Finney, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright, Milo O'Shea, Niamh Cusack. (1992)
REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., May 8, 1992
Co-written by Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot) and Kerry Crabbe, The Playboys is one of those unpretentious little films which sneaks up on you and you don't realize it until two or three hours after you've left the theatre. Then you find yourself recalling the subtle, rich images of Irish village life, circa 1957, and the engaging character portraits that the film meticulously captures. Nothing is wasted here in this unusual story of Tara (Wright), a freethinking, autonomous young woman whose lifestyle flies in the face of convention because not only does she have a baby out of wedlock, but she refuses to be intimidated by the wagging tongues of the locals and the moral pressures of the Catholic patriarchy. Her reputation as a scarlet woman doesn't improve much when a discouraged suitor commits suicide, and she refuses to redeem herself by marrying the middle-aged constable sergeant Hegarty (Finney), who is obsessively in love with her. The village is only momentarily distracted from meddling into Tara's life when a traveling theatrical troupe known as The Playboys arrives to bring some entertainment to the remoteness of the area. Yet, things begin to heat up when one of the actors (Quinn) manages to melt Tara's chilly resolve, and romance soon blossoms between the two -- much to the smoldering disapproval of Sgt. Hegarty, who is determined to have Tara for himself, at any cost. There are many subtextual issues at work in the film which revolve around guilt, redemption and the unjust nature of sexual politics, and these are firmly pushed to the narrative's surface by the dynamic, convincing performances of the actors and the strong, perceptible chemistry they generate among themselves. Wright is terrific as the village rebel who can hold her own against the gossipmongers and the guilt trips from the local priest, and whose unconventional behavior is an irresistible challenge to Finney and Quinn's characters. Finney is truly exceptional as the long-suffering Sgt. Hegarty, for he is able to evoke sympathy and compassion toward a character who is essentially unsympathetic, and the on-screen animosity he shares with Quinn's character is so credible that you can see the venom glowing in their eyes. And although he has a tendency to slip in and out of his brogue to the point of distraction, Quinn is quite good as the vagabond actor Tom who has a perpetual twinkle in his eyes and a hazy, mysterious past. All in all, The Playboys is an Irish treat.