The Last September (1999)
Director: Deborah Warner.
Starring: Michael Gambon (Sir Richard Naylor), Tom Hickey (O'Brien), Keeley Hawes (Lois Farquar), David Tennant (Captain Gerald Colthurst), Richard Roxburgh (Captain Daventry), Gary Lydon (Peter Connolly), Maggie Smith (Lady Myra Naylor), Maeve Kearney (Maid 1), Lambert Wilson (Hugo Montmorency), Jane Birkin (Francie Montmorency), Jonathan Slinger (Laurence Carstairs), Francine Mulrooney (Maid 2), Fiona Shaw (Marda Norton), Emily Nagle (Livvy Connolly), Catherine Walsh (Doreen Hartigan).
the Anglo-Irish play while the Irish world around them is rebelling
For hundreds of years the Anglo-Irish ruled Ireland on behalf of the English. After the uprising of 1916, however, the Anglo-Irish were caught in the bloody conflict between the Irish Republicans and the British army. This is the story of an end of a world.
1920. County Cork. Anglo-Irish family. At the estate of Sir Richard Naylor and his wife Lady Myra Naylor. Their niece Lois Farquar and their nephew Laurence Carstairs are visiting. They receive other guests as well: Hugo Montmorency and his wife Francie Montmorency and Marda Norton. Lois grew up with two Irish siblings of a lower class than her: Peter Connolly and his sister Livvy. It seems the Naylors are entertaining in the midst of a guerrilla war.
Lois Farquar is dancing with Captain Gerald Colthurst of the British army. In the background hiding is Irish Republican Peter Connolly. Sir Richard is worried about that scamp Connolly who is still about in the area. Hugo and Francie Montmorency arrive. Francie mentions that she saw someone in the trees by the road, but no one pays too much attention to her remark. Their hosts ask the new arrivals to come out onto the porch and Francie asks: "Will we get shot on the porch?" The idea is dismissed. At dinner Lady Myra says that someone mentioned that the Irish Republicans are just being "a bit wild" as normal.
Sir Richard talks with with Captain Colthurst. The Captain sees the Anglo-Irish as just fellow Britishers in a British territory, but Sir Richard stresses that "We are Irish." Colthust, who is from a much lower social class, is having a hard time understanding the political and economic situation of the wealthy Anglo-Irish. For instance, he doesn't know how to interpret remarks such as that of the nephew Laurence who said that he would like to see the manor house burn.
Walking around some ruins, Lois sees Peter Connolly and two other Irish Republicans plotting their next move. The feared and hated Black and Tan occupying troops are in the village out to have some fun. The hated and infamous sergeant of the Black and Tans kicks in the door of the locked Connolly bar and then proceeds to urinate on the threshold floor. Captain Daventry mentions that the police barracks in Ballydrum was attacked the previous night. Two policemen were burned alive, while the others were shot while surrendering. Lady Myra speaks with one of her guests to say that Captain Colthurst is not of the right social class for Lois.
The three Irish Republicans capture the notorious Black and Tan sergeant. They tie him up, beat him, strip him nude and then, while the sergeant is on his knees, Peter shoots him in forehead. While this happens, Hugo and Marda are flirting with each other starting or renewing a relationship. This naturally upsets Hugo's wife Francie.
Lois and Marda walk over to the abandoned mill. Peter is there. Lois sees Peter and he sees her, but Lois soon leaves. Lois talks with Marda. Marda likes Lois because she reminds her of herself when she was Lois's age. Marda's fiancÚ was killed at the Somme in World War I. She is older now and has decided to choose safety by marrying a wealthy stock broker, Leslie Lawes. She talks about the Anglo-Irish as a tribe and tribal people always prefer their own. Marda asks Lois if she had met someone at the mill. Lois denies it.
Lois brings a picnic basket with food for Peter. She asks him if he killed Sergeant Wilson and the answer is a quick "I sure did." Lois tries to see Livvy, but Livvy avoids her. This causes Lois to yell to her: "I'm not the army, you know."
Sir Richard says: "We're losing a country." He tells Captain Colthurst that his man O'Brien has seen Lois running around the countryside. He implies that the Captain should do all he can to capture Peter Connolly. Lois visits Peter again at the mill. He tells her that he is fighting to get rid of the Anglo-English like her. She asks "Where will we go?" and he responds "Back to England." He starts to undress her, but their visit is interrupted by Captains Colthurst and Davenport. Lois has Peter use his last bullet to slightly wound her on the wrist so no one will think she was there of her own free will. She runs out of the mill with her blouse open as if she had just escaped from an attempted rape. Captain Davenport tackles Connolly to the ground. Colthurst takes the Irishman's pistol, points it at his head and pulls the trigger multiple times but all he gets is click, click, click. At this distraction, Connolly bolts away. Colthurst takes out his own pistol and starts to shoot Connolly in the back when he is stopped by Captain Davenport: "Not in the back, man, not in the back!".
Captain Colthurst tells Lady Naylor that he is in love with her niece Lois. Lady Naylor tries to gently set him straight, but it is hard to sugar-coat a statement that a person is not of an acceptable social background to marry one's niece. The captain is extremely upset and seems bewildered by these Anglo-Irish. He leaves, bumps into Lois and tells her what her aunt said. He figures out that Lois had freely gone to be with Connolly in the old mill. Lois also sets him straight: "If you had shot him, I would have taken a gun and shot you myself."
Later at a social dance with the British officers, Lois dances with different officers. Livvy arrives and tells her that Peter wants to see her at the old mill. Peter and Lois meet again. He tells her that he has to go to Clare because he can't be an effective fighter when so many soldiers are chasing him. Back at the dance Marda mentions to Captain Colthurst that Lois went to the old mill. Captain Colthurst heads to the mill. Peter hears the noise of someone approaching the mill and he accuses Lois of having brought the British to the mill. He can't be reasoned with so Lois runs out of the mill. She runs into Colthurst just outside the mill as he heads into the mill with raised pistol. But Connolly gets the drop on Colthurst and fires his pistol into the head of the British officer.
Captain Davenport brings the news to the manor that Captain Colthurst has been killed. Lois faints. Later she runs to the Colthurst funeral. Back home, Francie tells Lois to get away from here, to go with Marda to London: "This place is dying." Hugo and Francie leave to move on to another manor as guests. Lois tells Marda that she would like to know who told Captain Colthurst that she was at the mill. Marda only says that sometimes it's best to remain ignorant of certain things. Lois pleads and begs Marta to take her to London. At first Marda refuses, but as Lois cranks up the pressure, she agrees. Lois leaves with Marta to head for England. Lady Naylor is quite exhausted. She says all the coming and going has just worn her out: "It's too much!"
Many of the Anglo-Irish had the feeling of being trapped; caught between the Irish Republicans and the British army. The author of the novel on which the film is based, Elizabeth Bowen, was an Anglo-Irish woman living in Ireland at the time of the fight for Irish independence from the British. She herself was extremely anxious that her manor house would be burned. This fear is reflected in the book and the movie. Many of the Anglo-Irish homes were burned by the Irish Republicans. The Anglo-Irish were either chased out or lost considerable power in Ireland. (Bowen's house was spared because the locals liked her.)
Good movie. In the case of Ireland I don't believe this subject of an entire class of people losing it's world has been dealt with in any real detail. It was very interesting to get a look into that world. Sir Richard and Lady Myra were fiddling while Rome burned. They entertained guests while people in the neighborhood and the village were being killed in a guerrilla war. And their guests pursued their love interests as if they were not at all affected by current events. It was interesting to watch the rich interact with people of lower social classes such as the British officers and village residents. Don't let conservatives fool you, the rich are by far the most class-conscious of all the classes and they work hard to keep the riff-raff out of their inner circle. And one of their weapons is to say that any attempt by a political party to improve the welfare of the less fortunate is "engaging in class conflict".
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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