Title: The Dead
Release Date: 18 December 1987
Director: John Huston
Production Company: Vestron Pictures | Zenith Entertainment | Liffey Films | Channel 4 Television Corporation | Delta Film
The Dead is an adaptation of the last and longest story in James Joyce’s collection Dubliners. It depicts a dinner party hosted by two elderly sisters and their niece for their annual celebration of Epiphany. Guests dance, perform recitations, sing, play piano, and enjoy a feast. Topics of conversation touch upon Irish nationalism, opera, morality, and religion. There’s a general underlying social awkwardness to the proceedings that I find very relatable and wonder if it’s an innate part of my Irish ancestry.
The main point of view character is a middle-aged academic, Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann), who is the target of gentle teasing, responsible for making the drunken Freddy (Donal Donnelly, who steals every scene he’s in) appear respectable, carves the goose, and provides a toast after dinner. The most powerful scenes in the film come at the end when Gabriel and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston) return to their hotel. Gretta reveals a tragic memory that was stirred up by the evening’s events, and Gabriel has an epiphany about their marriage.
I read Dubliners a couple of times in college (once on my own and once for a course), and previously watched the film in the classroom. It is the last film that John Huston directed before his death, and he was in severely poor health during its production. It’s beautifully filmed, especially the final shots of snow falling over Ireland, and has a great sense of authenticity in the early 20th-century setting and the actors’ performances. It even has a very young-looking Colm Meaney in a pre-Star Trek appearance.