BIG ISSUE NATIONAL VENDOR WEEK
LEARN MORE
Film

God's Creatures: Paul Mescal flexes his brogue in artfully bleak Irish family drama

Paul Mescal and Emily Watson star in a dark and raw examination of family dysfunction, set within the close-knit confines of a small Irish fishing community

Paul Mescal as Brian O’Hara and Emily Watson as his mother Aileen in God's Creatures.

Paul Mescal as Brian O’Hara and Emily Watson as his mother Aileen in God's Creatures. Image: Courtesy of A24.

From bangers to cachet: in just three years Paul Mescal has gone from making his screen debut in a TV ad for Denny Irish sausages to being cast as the lead in Ridley Scott’s long-awaited sequel to Gladiator. Along the way, he has trousered a Bafta for his role in the mini-series of Sally Rooney’s global best-seller Normal People and picked up an Oscar nomination for playing a single dad in heartbreaking holiday drama Aftersun. Cannily, he has also secured his long-term career prospects by signing up for Merrily We Roll Along, an ambitious film version of Stephen Sondheim’s coming-of-age musical that will film every few years until a forecasted 2039 release. The lad from County Kildare is living the dream: beloved by fans, feted by critics and irresistible to casting directors.

It helps that Mescal is charismatic, down-to-earth and keen to pitch in on interesting projects (he had a small but impactful supporting role in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, while Aftersun was the debut feature film from writer-director Charlotte Wells). But as his career skyrockets, the 27-year-old would do well to remember what happened to Colin Farrell, another soulful young Irishman who suddenly found himself in high demand. Farrell promptly relocated to LA, perfected an indeterminate American accent in a succession of high-profile Hollywood movies and ultimately experienced artistic and commercial burnout out in the full glare of the spotlight. (Thankfully, it all worked out OK for Farrell in the end.)

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

That risk of following your dream far from home only to have it all come crashing down has an interesting echo in Mescal’s latest film, the intense family drama God’s Creatures. It is set in a close-knit Irish fishing community where oysters – those enduring symbols of wealth and decadence – are farmed and harvested by local low-paid workers. Mescal plays Brian O’Hara, a wayward son who, after years of clashing with his fisherman father, upped sticks to start a bold new life in Australia, breaking contact with his family in the process. Now Brian is unexpectedly back, seemingly chastened and certainly unwilling to talk about what happened Down Under in anything other than the most general terms (his only Oz keepsake is an occasional tendency to say “mate”).

God’s Creatures is in cinemas from March 31

Brian’s homecoming overlaps with the funeral of one of his oldest pals, which could either be read as a fortuitous coincidence or a bad omen. But one person who is clearly delighted to see him is mum Aileen (Emily Watson). (His dad, played by Declan Conlon, is less thrilled but gruffly conciliatory.) It is easy to feel sympathy for Brian: the way he chafes against slotting back into a hardscrabble life he had hoped to leave behind seems relatable. But there is a casual selfishness to the way he leans on his ma, who instantly reverts to picking up after him, slipping him beer money and even quietly liberating oyster cages from her workplace to help him get started up again.

Mescal sours his natural charm to bring Brian’s character flaws to the surface, playing him as self-confident but rudderless, callow yet alarmingly callous. Things come to a head when on a night out he reconnects with old flame Sarah (Aisling Franciosi), an ambiguous reunion that threatens to scandalise the village. Aileen is instinctively on her son’s side but through Watson’s empathetic performance you can gradually sense the scales might begin to fall from her eyes, not just about Brian but also the chauvinistic elements of the local community in general.

With the constant churn of steel-grey tides under overcast skies, this is a film that feels bleak in both its setting and subject matter. But if Mescal’s furtive, ingratiating performance is effective, God’s Creatures is mainly an incredible showcase for Watson, whose Irish accent does not seem to waver even as she navigates a shattering gauntlet of love, fear and guilt. Witnessing the rawness of family dysfunction and how it can cause wider collateral damage might not be for everyone. But if you go into this artful film forearmed with a little emotional resilience, it is a darkly compelling journey. And the way his career is going, it might be the last opportunity to hear Mescal’s natural brogue for a while.

God’s Creatures is in cinemas from March 31

Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

National Vendor Week 2024

A celebration of people who are working their way out of poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley: 'Why the hell are we still judging someone on how they look?'
Film

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley: 'Why the hell are we still judging someone on how they look?'

Dune: Part Two review – deluxe space opera with a discreet safety net
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides and ZENDAYA as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE: PART TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Film

Dune: Part Two review – deluxe space opera with a discreet safety net

Photojournalist Lanre Fehintola didn't just record life on the edge – he became the story
Film

Photojournalist Lanre Fehintola didn't just record life on the edge – he became the story

From Silence of the Lambs to Sonic the Hedgehog: 6 films you didn't realise are actually romantic
Sonic The Hedgehog movie (2020)
Film

From Silence of the Lambs to Sonic the Hedgehog: 6 films you didn't realise are actually romantic

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know