Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Ireland, 2016. Treasure Entertainment. Screenplay by John Butler. Cinematography by Cathal Watters. Produced by Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole. Music by John McPhillips. Production Design by Ferdia Murphy. Costume Design by Kathy Strachan. Film Editing by John O’Connor. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
With his father and stepmother living in Dubai, Ned has been left behind to attend a posh boarding school in his native Ireland and couldn’t possibly be more miserable: he’s a slight and quiet fellow who has no interest in rugby, which makes him the centre of all bullying activity at a school where toxic masculinity seems to be the most popular subject. When Ned gets a new roommate and it’s a lush-lipped, quiet and tortured soul named Connor, he begins a friendship with him that is threatened when Connor, who is also a ridiculously good rugby player, is pressured to focus on the manly stuff that will lead to success for the school. Ned discovers secrets about Connor that increase his feeling of solidarity for him, until betrayals are traded and the circumstances turn dire for all involved in this minor charmer whose familiarity is easily excused thanks to heartfelt performances and steady direction. Andrew Scott is wonderful as an English teacher who stands up for the boys who don’t play rugby, and Michael McElhatton is exceptionally strong in his few moments as the stern but not inhumane headmaster of the school. Director John Butler details the stifling atmosphere and culture of upper-crust boys schools without ever taking away from the film’s comedic or romantic tones, giving into a few boring conventions (like the villainous rugby coach who is basically Debbie Harry in Hairspray) but breathing enough life into them to make the whole thing a pleasure to watch.