Written by newcomer Nicholas Adams, the story centers on the annual All-Ireland Traditional Music Competition, an event that draws the best Ceili bands from throughout the region and the world. This year, however, it looks to be a runoff between two in particular, each headed by one of the estranged MacMahon brothers. For years elder brother John Joe (Bernard Hill of "The Lord of the Rings") has dominated the competition with his homegrown band from County Clare. But this time around younger brother Jimmy (Colm Meany) and his crack band of Liverpudlians means to give them a run for their money as Jimmy aims to prove that in addition to succeeding in the big city, he can also still make good in the land of his roots. But the fraternal feud is but one knot in a deliciously entangled web of relationships that takes an unexpected and troublesome turn when Jimmy's star flutist, Teddy (Shaun Evans), takes a liking to John Joe's ace fiddler, Anne (Andrea Corr of the popular Irish recording group The Corrs). Indeed, by the time it's all done, winning the competition will be the least of their worries.
"The Boys and Girl from County Clare" is precisely the type of textured ensemble drama/comedy that the English and the Irish do so impeccably well. Acute characterizations, compelling relationships and finely-observed details create a rich tapestry of a particular cultural milieu with which audiences won't be able to help but fall in love. It's a film that could well do for Ceili music what "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" did for traditional American bluegrass and southern folk music.
Cast members, particularly the newcomers, look to reap even more. For the always-excellent Hill and Meany this is but another notch on a pair of already heavily perforated belts. For Evans and Corr, it's the beginning of what promise to be two very long and prosperous careers. As the key female figure in an otherwise male-dominated film, Corr is the picture of Irish radiance, exhibiting a natural flair for acting every bit as impressive as the musical skills she regularly displays in concert with her two elder sisters and brother. There's a boyish radiance to Evans, too, that almost recalls the charms of a younger Hugh Grant--soft smiles and an even softer heart.
All told, audiences will be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying or enjoyable entertainment than this splendid Celtic feast for the eyes and the ears. Starring Colm Meany, Bernard Hill, Andrea Corr, Patrick Bergin, Charlotte Bradley and Shaun Evans. Directed by John Irvin. Written by Nicholas Adams. Produced by Evzen Kolar. An IDP release. Drama. Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity. Running time: 90 min