Director Alex Fegan interviews 30 Irish men and women who have lived to be 100 years old or older. Through their eyes we see life, love and loss, as well as glimpses of Ireland throughout their lifetimes.
Officially founded in 1922 as an independent state, Ireland is a mere 93 years old in its current way of being, so getting a chance to see how the country has changed over the lifetimes of people who have lived to be over 100 years old is a fascinating idea. The trouble is that by trying to cram 30 people and their stories into the film’s relatively compact running time means that we never truly get to know them.
As mentioned, Alex Fegan crams 30 centenarians into Older Than Ireland, and some of their stories and their ways of telling them are more engaging than others.103 year old Bessie Nolan from Dublin emerges as a standout, with her Dublin accent and blue rinse, she has a way of telling a story and does not mince her words. Kathleen Snavely at 113 years old, is Ireland’s oldest citizen and, although she has spent much of her life in New York, she still has her dry Irish wit and way of talking. John Mitchell, at 101, is shown doing grocery shopping in Tesco and taking the bus around the suburbs of Dublin. The rest of these people – Sr Eileen Doyle, Dolly Atley, Ellie Lawler, Madge Fanning and Luke Dolan to name but a few – have all had fascinating lives, but don’t always get a chance to tell their stories.
In deciding to focus on 30 people for Older Than Ireland, Alex Fegan starts the film well, but by trying to cover history, changing times, happiest and saddest moments with so many people involved in the film, the cohesive idea at it’s heart becomes fractured and messy. This is not to say that the film is not engaging and moving – tales of new pairs of shoes and first kisses are moving and funny – but a more coherent idea at the heart of the film could have created a stronger view of Ireland’s past, and its future. That said, there is a warm heart beating at the centre of Older Than Ireland, and the stories are engaging and real.
In all, Older Than Ireland is a lovely idea for a film but in trying to interview 30 people, the film feels scattered and, sadly, the audience never truly gets to know these wonderful characters. That said, there is plenty to enjoy in Alex Fegan’s latest film, and it is easy to warm to these strong, engaging and brilliant people.