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Death of a Ladies Man


‘…as played by Gabriel Byrne, O’Shea is a three-dimensional character, an ‘operator’ by his own description, but also worth our compassion…’

‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there…’ Regular readers will notice a change in tone from my usual introductions, but these are not my words; these are the words of the great poet William Butler Yeats, as featured in Death of a Ladies Man, a serio-comic look at life and death released in the UK this week. Made in 2020, it’s one of many films with a somewhat benighted release pattern due to the Covid, but still worth seeking out.

Gabriel Byrne plays a welcome lead role as Samuel O’Shea, a womanising poetry professor of the ilk of Gowan McGland in the film Rueben Rueben. That’s a bit of an obscure reference, but even if you’ve not seen Tom Conti’s Oscar nominated performance in that film, you’ll know O’Shea’s type. He vomits into a plastic bin in front of his horrified students, who tremulously offer him a balm in the form of a breath-mint. He tells his doctor of his alcohol consumption; the daily figures for drink-downing are estimated to be in the twenties and thirties. O’Shea is estranged from his family, (his daughter offers a laconic toast to the ‘patriarchy’ ) but he is forced back into their orbit when adultery ruins a relationship and O’Shea ends up returning to his nest at Christmas to reveal a secret; he’s potentially looking at a terminal diagnosis, and a reckoning is on hand…

If that all sounds bleak, like some Hallmark ‘disease of the week’ special on the dangers of alcoholism, then it’s not; we don’t go down the route of specialists and tubes and palliative care. In fact, the melancholy end  that comes to Samuel O’Shea is entirely unpredictable yet avoidable. But as played by Gabriel Byrne, O’Shea is a three-dimensional character, an ‘operator’ by his own description, but also worth our compassion as he falls from grace. O’Shea hallucinates skating angels at an ice-hockey match, drinking with Frankenstein’s monster, conversations with his dead father (Brian Gleeson), possibly one more woman (Jessica Paré), and who knows what else; there’s also a number of musical interludes caused by his hallucinations, all themed to the music of Leonard Cohen.

“I would like to remind the management that the drinks are watered and the hat-check girl has syphilis and the band is composed of former ss monsters However since it is New Year’s Eve, and I have lip cancer, I will place my paper hat on my concussion and dance” is one of the many Cohen quotes used here, and captures the tone of a film which dramatises the pathos of a flawed man railing against the dying of the light. A canny structure allows us to see beyond O’Shea’s spiky, rebarbative personality and see how his drinking effects his family, and while the results are not flattering, they feel honest. Matthew Bissonnette’s film should appeal to those who enjoy a literate character study, but unlike some past iterations of bawdy characters, we get to see in real time how time, life and things generally catch up with Samuel O’Shea. Shot in and around a wintry Montreal, this delivers on the promise of some stark whimsy, helped by a fairly monumental performance from the always welcome Byrne.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Death of a LadiesMan on Digital Download from 25 July  2022.



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  1. To counter all the “nopes” you get, this one is a big YEP! for me. I really want to see this but will probably have to wait a while over here in the land of the rising sun & falling population. Byrne is always worth watching and I like the sound of the realistic portrayal of a life lived to excess.

    • There’s something about the timing of your posts that takes me a while to get to them! This film does not have a conventional release pattern, so I’d look for it on local streaming providers and one day, it’ll pop up. It’s really not PC and a nice antidote to virtue signalling. Byrne should do more leads, he’s the real deal.

  2. Was there ever an abstemious poet? Or does that not fit the job description? Byrne’s always a good watch and it’s rare he gets a chance at center stage so I’d probably seek it out on that basis alone. These kind of films used to come in the summer as counter-programming to the blockbuster spree.

    • This is a proper film, and should have been big screen counter programming. We’ve maybe seen one drunken poet too many, but Byrne really inhabits the role and makes this worth a recommend.

        • It’s done really well, regret not catching it. I’m seeing arguments that we’ve had a great summer, but used up the best stuff that should have came out over the last 39 months. We’ll see…

          • Been checking next bunch of openings and it certainly is slowing though traditionally it grinds to a halt after Labor Day. It feels more like usual now with movies running six-eight weeks.

  3. Saw this last year, enticed by Cohen soundtrack (of same name) and proverbial ‘go home for a last glance’ dynamic. If only he’d brought Arthur with him, or Liz as Martha, or WC Fields…instead he has rabbit Harvey in his head. I was waiting for Bryne to quote Dowson.
    Having lived amongst teetotalers, lushes, and a few with pathological tendencies–I prefer the lush that waxes poetic. I wish we’d learned more RE why he thought he was a ladies man. Cohen wasn’t a bad choice for an alt drunken voice; Dylan Thomas also works, as does Poe & Bukowski…however rebel e e cummings might have been best fit: ‘yours is music no poem or instrument fits; it doesn’t matter to the sun, nor the rain care–your shadow has begun; yours are poems I don’t write; so said the ladies (man)…’

    • Oh, Dowson is a good shout. Maybe forgotten, but certainly influential! My guess is that if you look, sound and act like Gabriel Byrne, being a ladies man is a potential career avenue that it would be hard not to embrace. So this is another in cinemas tradition of romanticised lushes, we don’t have to clear up their mess, so that always adds to the romantic quality. I get the impression the film’s creator started with Cohen and worked backwards to the drama, but as you say, it’s a reasonable fit. The constant games with the hallucinations worked for me here, probably at the expense of the poetry, but at least there was some really cinematic drama; I won’t spoil the fate of the ‘girl’ he chats up in the shop for any casual readers, but it pulled the wool out from under my feet (?!) and put me squarely in o’Shea’s position of being unable to continue on such choppy ground. I did think of you while I was reviewing this literate film; there’s plenty of ladies men, and ladies women, in these Celtic parts…I guess cinematically, they were lucky to get one set of rights nailed down for Cohen, and stopped without considering much more than Yeats.

    • I thought your knowledge of the Canadian academic world would make this a must for you…

        • ‘the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage’?

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