Brendan Gleeson returns to another isolated rural community struggling for a sense of identity, though this time in a much lighter role than the incredible Calvary. Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction is a remake of a French-language film from 2003, and sees Gleeson as Murray, the makeshift mayor of the tiny harbour of Tickle Head in Newfoundland, Canada.
Tickle Head is an idyllic pastoral backwoods filled with the kind of merry peasant that Patrick Kavanagh satirized – ‘in his little lyrical fields, he ploughs and sows, he eats fresh food, he loves fresh women’. An opening scene sees a young Murray perched on his roof watching his father and all the other fishermen trudge home from the sea to a steaming plate and buxom wife – a simple, but happy existence.
Fast forward to the present day, when international regulations have devastated the fishing trade and Tickle Head’s rustic charm is quickly turning to rack and ruin. The men idle about unsure of their place in the world, bobbing between the bars and waiting for the next government cheque to arrive. One by one, families start to abandon Tickle Head to find work in the city. Cue Murray and his grand plan to attract a petroleum processing plant to the harbour, a move that would secure employment for all and ensure the future of Tickle Head. There are a multitude of problems to be solved – first and foremost is that the town needs a resident doctor. Enter Taylor Kitsch as Dr. Lewis, a young plastic surgeon staying in Tickle Head for a month, and a big fish that needs to be caught.
The Grand Seduction plays out like a version of the Truman Show set on Craggy Island. A tapped phone line in Dr. Lewis’ house acts as an inlet to his stream of thought, allowing Murray and the rest of the denizens to shape Tickle Head into a place that fulfils his every need – though with the unique kind of charm that only a shoddy, isolated, harbour community can offer. It’s a classic underdog story, propelled a little further by the tension of whether Dr. Lewis will cotton on to the ploy. Gleeson, true to form, continues to dominate the screen with another incredible performance – bringing a depth to Murray that could have very easily been missed out on – and the same can be said for Kitsch. In many ways The Grand Seduction stays near the surface, the plot unfolding through a series of comedic set-ups; but Kitsch and Gleeson’s relationship, especially as they drift into surrogate father and son territory, is a lifesaver. It brings a welcome level of moral ambiguity to the affair that just about saves the film from mawkishness.
McKellar manages to capture a gorgeous piece of Newfoundland – the rough coastal landscapes, angled fields, and the garbled dialect will be familiar to Irish viewers (the fact that this corner of Canada is a relative stranger to cinema probably works in this film’s favour as it is impossible to tell whether the accents are accurate or diabolical). The downside of The Grand Seduction is that it is a film that revolves around one gag – and at close to two hours, that starts to get a little tiring. You’d almost wish McKellar spent a little less time on some of the predictable set-ups, and lingered a little in areas that are zipped through, like Gleeson’s relationship with his wife. Go to The Grand Seduction and expect the archetypal fisherman’s tale – one that is outlandish, exaggerated, and with plenty of struggles. Whatever it lacks in dramatic punch it tries to make up for with comedy, which makes it a somewhat frivolous but chirpy little film that will bring plenty of laughs.