Colin Morgan and Colm Meaney crackle and fizz as the mismatched and misfortunate friends

The opening night of the Takeover Film Festival at the QFT is a sold-out success. Coinciding with the NI premier of latest Irish feature, Parked, the event has drawn a huge crowd. The festival has been planned and created entirely by young people from different cultural backgrounds, and is clearly a professional affair from the beginning.

With its themes of friendship, hope and aspiration, Parked is an apt opening film for the festival. However, whilst the message one takes home from the feature may be uplifting, the subject matter is multi-layered, often bleak and upsetting. It tells the tale of two people living out of their respective cars and this unlikely friendship in many ways follows the defining trope of Irish cinema – putting on a brave face and finding joy in the darkest of situations.

The two people in question are middle-aged Fred, played by the legendary Colm Meaney, and Colin Morgan’s twenty-something character, Cathal. Whilst both men are living out of their vehicles in the same car-park, they have found themselves in this situation through very different means. Fred is in part a victim of circumstance, economy and the bureaucracy of the welfare system, whilst Cathal’s situation stems from drug addiction and family problems.

We find out more about each character’s back-story as the film progresses. Far more interesting, however, is the dynamic between the two protagonists. Fred and Cathal’s first meeting is both moving and amusing. The former nervous and irate about the arrival of the latter at ‘his’ car-park.

Before long, however, they are having a conversation about their living arrangements, a conversation driven by the over-confident Cathal. The tone of the film is captured excellently in one line, as Cathal cheerfully asks Fred, ‘where do you wash?’, before mentioning that ‘the Sports Centre is nice’. In this exchange, we can see the pair already finding some sense of normality within their seemingly hopeless situation.

Indeed, the swimming pool at the aforementioned centre becomes something of a motif throughout the film. It is an effective, if slightly simple, metaphor for freedom, normality and tranquillity, within the madness of the rest of the characters’ lives.

Cathal helps to bring Fred out of his shell, whilst Fred in some ways becomes something of a surrogate father-figure. It is not all fun, however, and there are some harrowing scenes of violence and drug abuse throughout.

The emotional impact is heightened by the phenomenal performances from two serious acting powerhouses. Meaney imbues Fred with a sense of stoic dignity and a tremendous heart of gold, with a complex mix of impotent rage at the system and a strong desire for normality bubbling away underneath. Cathal is, in many ways, the yin to Fred’s yang. Morgan plays the part with youthful energy and cockiness, whilst injecting him with drug-addled, jittery intensity. Exchanges between the two characters positively crackle and fizz, a tremendous sense of camaraderie coming through.

After the feature, Radio Ulster’s Steven Rainey holds an informative question and answer session with Morgan. He reveals more about the making of the film, and his preparation for the part. As well as a few gags from both Rainey and Morgan, it is great to see members of the audience who have been through similar situations voicing their support for the film.

Morgan makes it clear that his primary concern throughout shooting was to keep his performance authentic and to hopefully provide hope for people, and their families, who may have found themselves in the same boat. It is a great an end to a great evening to hear from the audience that he has succeeded. 

Parked will be back at Queen's Film Theatre from December 2 - 8. Check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On for more information.