Cinema Review – A Doctor’s Sword

There is a Japanese sword in MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere, Cork. The sword was gifted to an Irish doctor who served in the RAF in World War II and, although it was one of Aidan MacCarthy’s most prized possessions, it has always been unclear as to how it came into his possession. MacCarthy’s daughters Adrienne and Nicola, together with archive audio of MacCarthy himself, unravel the mystery of the sword, and the incredible life of Dr Aidan MacCarthy.

A Doctor’s Sword opens up the life of Dr Aidan MacCarthy, and the almost unbelievable life he led. Not long after qualifying as a doctor, MacCarthy moved to London in search of work, and found himself enlisting in the RAF. McCarthy survived the assault on Dunkirk, several years in Japanese prisoner of war camps and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. MacCarthy’s family knew these stories fro his book and the limited information he gave them about his life, but one mystery remained unsolved; who gave MacCarthy the Japanese sword that resides in the bar, and why!?

Gary Lennon’s film is a well constructed documentary. The story of MacCarthy’s life is told by his daughters Adrienne and Nicola, his widow Kathleen and through a radio interview that MacCarthy gave to RTÉ not long before his death. Lennon weaves all of this together with archive footage and animated sequences to tell an incredible story.

There are two strands to A Doctor’s Sword; while Adrienne tells the story of her father’s life from behind the bar at MacCarthy’s in Castletownbere, her sister Nicola travels to Japan to try and find the family of the man whose photograph was among MacCarthy’s possessions; the man who must have given the Irish doctor a Japanese sword. The story unravels carefully and in almost chronological order, with the audience being told the fantastic true story of MacCarthy’s life, while being caught up the mystery of the sword.

There are times when the film neglects to balance the past and present as well as it could, with one or the other of the strands of story being allowed to fall by the wayside from time to time. This is not to say that the story allowed to take over the film – usually the one of MacCarthy’s life – is not an interesting one, but this means that the balance of the film feels a little uneven from time to time.

In all, A Doctor’s Sword unravels the incredible true story of an Irish man whose life was filled with suffering and tragedy, but he somehow lived to tell the tale. The film is cleverly put together for the most part, with MacCarthy’s daughters being allowed to tell their father’s story, and the man himself being allowed to fill in the gaps. There are times when the focus feels a little uneven, but the story is engrossing and moving, and lovingly told.

Rating: 3.5/5

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