‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (2022) Review: A Fable of Feuding Friends

Nuha Hassan
5 min readNov 5, 2022
Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as Colm and Pádraic. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is set during the Irish Civil War that was raging in Ireland. It’s not a war story, although the sounds of the rifles and cannons can be heard from the mainland. It’s a story about a farmer getting dumped by his best friend. It’s amazing to see Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who worked together on McDonagh’s In Bruges reunite almost a decade later. The Irish actors bring charisma and a pleasant display of chemistry. The movie explores the profound reflections of observation, redemption, and loneliness.

The Banshees of Inisherin begins with Pádraic (Farrell) following his everyday routine. He picks up his best friend, Colm (Gleeson), at his home and heads over to the pub for some good chats and drinks. But to Pádraic’s surprise, Colm doesn’t want to be friends with him anymore and asks him to not bother him anymore. Pádraic doesn’t understand why Colm severed ties with him without any words of explanation. He finds out that Colm finds him to be dull. So, Colm would rather spend time creating music than talk to Pádraic ever again. Everyone else on the island deals with the end of Colm and Pádraic’s friendship. Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the local gossiper, tries to repair the friendship. Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), with whom he shares a home, desires to leave Inisherin and knows why Colm wants to be left alone by everyone else. But when Pádraic refuses to listen to Colm’s requests, he takes it one step further and threatens to cut off his finger every time Pádraic talks to him.

Colin Farrell as Pádraic. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

McDonagh uses the Irish Civil War raging in the background, as the counterpoint to the conflict between Pádraic and Colm. To understand what is happening between the two former best friends, it’s important to understand the war. The film, which is set in 1923, is raging through a war for almost a year. The Irish Civil War is part of a long war and violence over the different views on whether the British should allow ruling the land or not. While one side prefers to be independent, the other side wishes to be part of the British Commonwealth. At some point, people on one side ended up fighting against each other. With this war in mind, McDonagh contextualises the fighting between Pádraic and Colm. Both of these men were best friends for almost a decade. Colm decides to end the friendship, which ends in a heartbreaking Pádraic. He deals with the tragic loss of a best friend. The deep history of their friendship is too rich for him to give up without an explanation.

The conflict of their friendship is small compared to the battle that is happening on the mainland. McDonagh’s characters are attainable and display tenderness, with an occasional whiff of comedy. In such a small community, everyone knows each other’s business. So, when Colm decides to cut Pádraic out of his life, everyone assumes that Pádraic has done something to displease him. It is much later on that the audience figures that Colm finds Pádraic to be dull. McDonagh creates this moment in a way that doesn’t belittle Pádraic but shows that his frustrations are justifiable. Even when Colm requests Pádraic to stay away, Colm still likes his old friend.

Brendan Gleeson as Colm. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Furthermore, Colm’s desire to explore his artistic venture is written in an attainable way. He realises that he needs to spend more time creating music and spend time talking to people that would remember him. Pádraic doesn’t fulfil that for him. In one scene, Colm mentions that he wants to write music because kindness ends. Kindness within humans is never remembered by the next generation, yet, music has a way of preserving it for many years. It’s how he wants to be remembered by anyone. A ritual that can follow through time and space, and so, he writes a composition called “The Banshees of Inisherin.” He’s writing a tune about death, whether it is about the island or his friendship with Pádraic, everything contains in this fable.

Funny thing is, The Banshees of Inisherin has no banshees, who are significant to Irish folklore. They are female spirits that shriek and mourn to signal that a family member will meet death very soon. The only woman in the movie that symbolises a “banshee” is Mrs McCormick, a pipe-smoking old woman with a dark and foreboding manner in Inisherin. She spends her time mentioning deaths on the horizon — on the mainland.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as Pádraic and Colm. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Farrell and Gleeson deliver their best acting in The Banshees of Inisherin. The chemistry becomes a master performance of two old friends bickering with each other as they go back and forth with witty dialogues. With furrowed eyebrows, Farrell has a charismatic screen presence and develops a striking new depth in every performance. In this movie, he gives one of his strongest performances. Gleeson performs with a mixture of tenderness, stoicism, and a glare that will rattle anyone.

The Banshees of Inisherin is undoubtedly a comedy. Even at the centre of their conflict, there’s a heartbreaking element that cannot be ignored. It’s difficult to navigate by yourself in a one-sided friendship. Pádraic tries to understand the reason behind Colm’s abandonment of their friendship. McDonagh uses the conflict between Pádraic and Colm to serve as a metaphor for the Irish Civil War. Brother against brother. Friends against friends. Their friendship loses itself in the fables of Inisherin forever.