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The Eclipse

Ireland 2009
Directed by
Conor McPherson
88 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Eclipse

Synopsis: In a seaside Irish town during a writer’s festival, a widower, Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds), is assigned to look after visiting novelist Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle).  Morelle is trying to extricate herself from the persistent attentions of best-selling author and chronic wanker, Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) with whom she had previously had a passionate one-night stand.

With an effective lead performance as a recently-bereaved husband and father of two by Ciarán Hinds, an actor known from support roles in many Hollywood movies, The Eclipse works best as the portrait of a middle-aged man grappling with his love for his deceased wife and his attraction to another woman. This is Catholic Ireland so “until-death-us-do-part” is not taken lightly with “death” being meant to be taken as applying to both parties. This emotionally-constrained, psychologically repressive context is well-suited to the possibility of supernatural phenomena which is the film's main narrative motif

As a ghost story,however, The Eclipse is really only a minor contender.  Director Conor McPherson gives us a few sudden jolts but the main action is the matter of Farr’s budding relationship with the beautiful, mercurial single lady novelist who also sees ghosts and the question of how much of what occurs is in his grief-stricken, wish-fulfilling imagination. This aspect gives a rewardingly different twist to the romance-drama template which underpins the story.   

Working against it is the fact that it’s all a little too neat. Iben Hjejle, who most will recognize as John Cusack’s ex-girlfriend in High Fidelity (2000) is a little too good-looking and her willingness to bide her time with the burly Farr feels too much of a writer’s contrivance.

This is echoed by the film’s technical approximations. Thus, Farr, is supposed to be a wood-working teacher but bar one short scene when we see him in situ in the carpentry shop he never appears to have to go to his school or for that matter pay any attention to his own kids. And how does a single father of two on a woodwork teacher’s salary have a spotlessly clean, finely-furnished Georgian terrace house with even fresh flowers on the hallway table? And why, after his final encounter with his father-in-law’s wraith, does he leave home in the early morning light only to turn up later at Lena’s house and it is darker and supposed to be 5.30 in the morning.  For me the final (and now quite clichéd) tidying-up-the-loose-ends answering machine adieu from Morelle to Farr sealed a sense of this being no doubt engaging material in the original text (a novel by Billy Roche, who appears here as the festival M.C.) but mis-represented by an overly generic filmic transposition that would have benefitted from a more adventurous treatment.

Yet even if one feels that not everything that should have been on the screen is there, within its modest ambitions, The Eclipse holds our attention well enough helped along by a tastefully understated piano score by Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin.




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