As a group of the intellectually disabled are taken on a day trip to Galway City, they find themselves exposed to drugs, sex and alcohol – and sugar.


Illegal tryst: Charlene Kelly and Kieran Coppinger


At the beginning of the month, Lionsgate released Wonder, a film about a ten-year-old boy with mandibulofacial dysostosis, a severe form of facial deformity. In spite of the tricky subject matter, the film went on to gross $110 million in the US alone. However, it does star Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson and the boy is played by Jacob Tremblay, who underwent extensive prosthetic makeup for the role. You will find it harder to catch Sanctuary at a cinema near you, in spite of the fact that it’s just won the top prize at the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle Awards. The lead character in Sanctuary, which marks the directorial debut of Len Collin, features a young Irish man with Down’s syndrome. In this instance the character is played by a young Irish man with Down’s syndrome. Kieran Coppinger created the part on stage as part of the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, an initiative which promotes a place in the arts for people with intellectual disabilities. In fact, most of the cast of Sanctuary is intellectually challenged which, if nothing else, guarantees an edge of realism. The screenplay is by Christian O'Reilly, who previously wrote the story Inside I’m Dancing, for a film which starred James McAvoy as a man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and the actor faked it very well. Of course, those with Down’s syndrome have popped up in front of the camera before, notably Pascal Duquenne in Jaco Van Dormael's The Eighth Day (1996) and most recently Leon Harrop in TV’s The A Word.


It’s hard to judge such a bracingly original film by the parameters of conventional cinema. This predicament is neatly encapsulated when a group of the intellectually challenged are taken on a day trip to the movies. With no idea what they are about to see, they ponder the cinematic possibilities: “I hope it’s not a horror film,” says one, a young woman. What follows is, of sorts, a farce, as Larry (Coppinger) bribes his carer to book him a hotel room so that he can spend some special time with Sophie (Charlene Kelly), an epileptic. This is all highly illegal as the intellectually disabled are, by Irish law, not allowed to enjoy intimacy unless they are married. So, while Tom (Robert Doherty) is organising this unseemly tryst, others in the group wander off into Galway City to do what they like. Here, much humour is mined, but not at the expense of the characters, nor indeed of those bystanders who don’t know what to make of them. Matthew (Paul Connolly) and William (Frank Butcher) decide to visit the pub and after a few drinks, William demands of the barman, “two more pints, please.” To which Matthew adds, “and two more pints for me.”


It helps that the performers are familiar with their characters and their lines but there is no attempt at ‘acting’ on their part. These are wise beings trapped in bodies that don’t conform to the norm, but there’s still room for humour, irony and, indeed, romance. And the director Len Collin exhibits a savvy understatement in his design. Even his choice of music hits home, such as the use of ‘Love Machine,’ made famous by Girls Aloud, whose lyrics could have been written for the film: “Nobody's perfect/We all gotta work it/But fellas, we're worth it.”




Cast: Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty, Frank Butcher, Paul Connolly, Patrick Becker, Valerie Egan, Karen Murphy, Tara Breathnach.


Dir Len Collin, Pro Edwina Forkin, Screenplay Christian O'Reilly, Ph Russell Gleeson, Pro Des Eleanor Wood, Ed Julian Ulrichs, Music Joseph Conlan, Costumes Sonja Mohlich.


Bord Scannan na hEireann/Irish Film Board/Broadcasting Authority of Ireland/ Zanzibar Films-Guerilla Films.

89 mins. Ireland. 2016. Rel: 29 December 2017. Cert. 15.