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Ballywalter (15)

Cast: Patrick Kielty, Seana Kerslake, Conor MacNeill
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Stacey Gregg
Director: Prasanna Puwanarajah
Release Date: 22/09/2023 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 90mins
Country: Ire
Year: 2023

Following the painful breakdown of his marriage, Shane nervously enrols in a stand-up comedy course. He calls a taxi for the 30-minute journey from Ballywalter to Belfast and unlicensed 20-something driver Eileen responds. She has recently returned to the area after living in London for a short period and is making ends meet behind the wheel of her ex-boyfriend's minicab. During repeated journeys to course sessions, lost souls Shane and Eileen strike up a touching friendship.


LondonNet Film Review

Ballywalter (15) Film Review from LondonNet

Penned by East Belfast writer Stacey Gregg, Ballywalter is a quietly affecting study of two lost souls who have hit rock bottom; self-pitying victims of their own actions who recognise the darkness that consumes them but don’t know how to escape it. A slow-burning story of depression and self-preservation unfolds during 12 car journeys from the coastal village of Ballywalter to Belfast, cocooning central characters inside a taxicab as Mother Nature kisses the rugged countryside and cityscapes of Northern Ireland…

Kielty meets his match in Seana Kerslake, portraying an acid-tongued university dropout on a “wee stop-gap” which currently comprises ill-tempered exchanges with the clientele of a local café where she is paid to make flat whites not chug quadruple espressos in a back alley. “You don’t respect the bean!” snaps her boss. Spiky verbal exchanges are petrol in the film’s fuel tank and Gregg’s script bides its time with back stories to explain the characters’ companionships with misery.

Following the implosion of his marriage, Shane (Kielty) is living in self-imposed exile in Ballywalter, estranged from his wife Donna (Joanne Crawford) and their daughter Martha. He hopes to escape a choking fog of self-loathing by enrolling in a 12-week stand-up comedy course run by Jonny (Lloyd Hutchinson) at a community centre in Belfast. Shane is serving a six-month suspended sentence for driving under the influence so he calls for a taxi to ferry him back and forth between Ballywalter and Belfast. Unlicensed 20-something driver Eileen (Kerslake) responds.

She has recently returned home to live with her mam (Abigail McGibbon) and pregnant sister Gemma (Adele Gribbon) after dropping out of university studies in London. Scratching a living behind the wheel of her ex-boyfriend’s minicab is no dream and a perpetually sour-faced Eileen refuses to engage with chatty passengers. She also flees the scene of a collision with a motorcycle belonging to delivery driver Pizza Phil (Ryan McParland). Shane and Eileen unexpectedly sow seeds of a touching friendship during weekly trips and they inspire one another to clamber out of their respective ruts.

Ballywalter exercises restraint at every narrative turn, even with a climatic first performance by course students at the Empire music hall, a centre of gravity for comedy in Belfast and fittingly where Kielty began his stand-up career. He gels handsomely with Kerslake, who has the showier role and carefully softens her protagonist’s sharp edges as she absorbs the comedy course’s key learning: “If you’re being truthful then failure can be powerful.” Some of the film’s choices fail – the protracted Pizza Phil subplot is superfluous – but a well-intentioned stumble is better than standing still.

– Sarah Lee


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