Handsome Devil

 

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An example of feel-good cinema that fails to live up to 2014's Pride.

 

Handsome Devil
Fionn O'Shea

 

Reviewing a film like this is for the critic not without its problems. On the one hand, as written and directed by John Butler, Handsome Devil emerges as a sincere, well-intentioned work while on the acting front that reliable player Andrew Scott has a more substantial role than his billing might suggest and, among a handful of able young players, there's a particularly promising new lead actor in Fionn O'Shea. But, on the other hand, well....

 

Handsome Devil is an Irish film set in a boys' boarding school, Wood Hill College, where the rugby team under coach Pascal (Moe Dunford) is the pride of the establishment. Consequently, Ned, a returning student who disdains sport and is keen on music (that's O'Shea's role), feels himself an outsider and is used to being bullied with homophobic abuse thrown in. So he is pleased to find that this term he has a room to himself - until, that is, a newcomer, Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) arrives at the last minute. Sharing a room with another pupil is standard, but this Conor is noted for his rugby skills and Ned can't imagine a more inappropriate companion. Yet in time things will change.

 

This is a film that centres on the prejudice that still makes it difficult for gay people to be open about their sexuality and, attacking the need to cover up felt by many, it underlines the importance of being able to be your true self and not to feel compelled to speak - as the film puts it - in a borrowed voice. The assertion is made in a way that is hardly subtle, but it remains a valid theme that could be the basis of a stark, compelling naturalistic drama. What is immediately clear however - and not just because Ned provides a smart voice over - is that Handsome Devil is aiming to be An Entertainment, one in which the tale will come over as somewhat larger than life. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that songs are added on the soundtrack as the story unfolds. But it must be said that all of this is presented in a style that remains consistent.

 

In fact, for much of the time it is not difficult to adjust to the chosen convention, one that extends to excluding any sex scenes.  Butler as director does play around with split screens and such on occasion and one may feel that his approach as writer rather undersells the seriousness of what he has to say. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to overemphasise this since the film's heart is patently in the right place. However, what does make it difficult to refrain from heavier criticism is the way in which the drama is built up in the last quarter of the film. Even this is, of course, a matter of taste. If the conclusion of Handsome Devil deals in clich├ęd wish fulfilment to the point of absurdity, it should be acknowledged that the potential appeal of a feel-good film hasn't been rendered so null and void by sheer incredibility since that appalling movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. And we all know how the public loved that!

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Fionn O'Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott, Moe Dunford, Michael McElhatton, Ruairi O'Connor, Mark Lavery, Ardal O'Hanlon, Amy Huberman, Stephen Hogan, Hugh O'Conor.

 

Dir John Butler, Pro Rebecca O'Flanagan and Robert Walpole, Screenplay John Butler, Ph Cathal Watters, Ed John O'Connor, Music John McPhillips, Costumes Kathy Strachan.

 

Treasure Entertainment-Icon Film Distribution.
95 mins. Ireland. 2016. Rel: 28 April 2017. Cert. 15.