This month a very special young lady near and dear to all Irish hearts turned 25.
Georgina Curley (née Rabbitte), the titular Snapper of the 1993 Irish classic, weighing 7 pounds 12 ounces. Her story has been a staple of Irish culture since its inception. Initially, as the second novel in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy, then more memorably in the 1993 movie adaptation.
The story itself is beautifully simple: Sharon Curley (changed as 20th Century Fox owned the rights to the Rabbitte name from The Commitments) gets pregnant and won’t tell anyone who the father is other than it’s a “Spanish sailor” and the family do their best to adapt to the incoming new addition.
That said, there are some really dark elements simmering just under the surface; Sharron is essentially raped by a family friend who takes “her panties” as a trophy. The scene is played for laughs in the movie (“is that you squeaking?”), whereas the book is more wilfully ambivalent with Sharon only remembering snippets of the night and herself unsure if it was rape. Doyle himself has stated he sees George Burgess’ actions more immoral than illegal but leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions.
Sharon is equal parts flawed and heroic; drinking throughout the pregnancy while at the same time taking to eating celery as “it’s good for the baby”; had the book been set earlier it’s not hard to imagine Sharon and baby being separated at one of the nun-run laundries that sadly was the fate of so many unmarried Irish mothers.
Even when the truth of the baby’s father is revealed, it is Sharon and not the cheating married man who is ostracised by the community.
Her white knight shows up in the unlikely form of the human highlight reel that is Dessie Curley played by Colm Meaney. Promising to love the child even “If it looks like Burgess’ arse”, Meaney was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, alongside Hollywood icons like Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp.
He would wind up losing to Robin Williams for Mrs Doubtfire, Curley is one of cinema’s all-time great characters: endlessly quotable, he peppers the film with a lifetime’s supply of memorable scenes from threatening his neighbour with a set of garden shears to casually propositioning his wife because there is nothing on TV.
Surprisingly, film adaptations of Doyle’s work would end with The Van three years later.
His only other contribution to the screen being the screenplay for 2000’s When Brendan Met Trudy, adaptations of Doyle’s work ushered in an all too brief boom for Irish-made movies.
The Butcher Boy, I Went Down and later Intermission all owe a debt to Doyle’s trailblazing Barrytown Trilogy; it helped mould the Irish humour that has influenced everything from Moone Boy to the brilliant Roddy Doyle’s Star Trek Facebook page.
Cardboard Gangsters and The Young Offenders have shown there is an appetite for Irish-centric movies but sadly there doesn’t seem to be the money, with the majority of Irish talent seeking funding and opportunities abroad.
The Snapper remains a bold, brash and brilliant piece of work; undoubtedly the funniest film Ireland has ever produced: “Yes, hombre. He speaks the truth”.
Words: Andy McCarroll @andymc1983