J. L. Sievert Reply to on 12 September 2018
|Twenty years have now passed since “Waking Ned” first appeared. Over that timespan the film has lost none of its magic and charm.
The story is well known. A small notice in the Irish Times reports that someone in the rural district of County More West (fictitious) has won the national lottery. There are no major towns in the county, its biggest settlement the village of Tullymore (pop. 52). The pot is huge, nearly £7 million, but no one has stepped up to claim the prize. Why not? Who is the winner and what are they waiting for?
Jackie O’Shea would like to know. He takes his motorbike down to the beach and finds his good friend Michael O’Sullivan lazing there, smoking a cigarette and staring vacantly out to sea. Jackie and Michael are old mates now in their late 60s. They have grown up in the village together.
Can you believe it? Jackie wants to know. Michael is slack jawed at the news. Both men scratch their heads in wonder. Who could it be?
That night at the Fitzgerald, their local public house, Jackie buys Pig Finn a pint of Guinness. Michael is chipper too and buys Finn a bag of his favourite crisps— Mexican-flavoured potato chips. Jackie also hands Finn some fruity bars of soap on account of Finn stinking so much because of the pigs he cares for on his farm.
Too strange. Jackie has never bought Finn a pint of beer in his life, so Finn suspects Jackie has come into some money. What a laugh Jackie says. Jackie and Michael suspect the winner is Finn because he’s lately been driving round the village in a flash red convertible sports car. Everyone is impressed, but in fact the car is not his. It’s his brother’s, a brother who presumably doesn’t live in Tullymore, though where the brother got the money for it nobody knows.
At any rate, that night at home Jackie tells his wife Annie that he wasted a tenner on Pig Finn. He gave away the expensive fruity soaps too — raspberry, strawberry, banana, and the others. But that’s not all. When Jackie realised Pig Finn wasn’t rich he treated others in the bar that night to more pints. The hole that burned through his pocket that night now requires thread totalling a cost of £50 to mend. Annie is angry but understands why Jackie’s sleuthing was so important.
Yes, who can it be? One way to find out — throw a party. So that’s what Jackie and Annie do at their place with the assistance of Michael. They send out invitations to the likely suspects in the village. A total of 18 invitations are sent. Chicken dinner, beer and some champagne. What’s the occasion, some want to know. No occasion, just a chance to have a party, Jackie lies.
Party over and no one is any wiser for it, none of the guests now sudden millionaires. Was anybody on the guest list who did not attend? Jackie and Annie aren’t sure and look the list over. Of course! Ned Devine. A no-show. How strange is that, because everyone knows how much Ned loves parties and socialising. What’s the meaning of it? It’s late, Jackie tries to sleep, can’t, gets up, puts his raincoat on, walks out into the storm, makes his way down to the beach where Ned’s small stone cottage is located.
Ned, are you in there? Ned, wake up! Jackie is pounding on Ned’s front door. No answer, no light on inside. The front door is unlatched and Jackie walks in. He has brought leftovers from the party with him: a chicken leg, an apple tart, some ale.
Ned, it’s Jackie. Are you awake?
Ned isn’t awake. In fact, Ned will never be awake again.
The TV in Ned’s bedroom is on (nothing but snow and static), and there on the bed Ned rests upright, his eyes wide open, his mouth smiling, the winning lottery ticket in his hand, fortune turned to misfortune in an instant, the shock of winning the death of him.
Jackie takes the ticket and trudges back home. There he and Annie marvel at it, shaking their heads in wonder at the cruel irony of fate and God’s crazy, mysterious ways. Both conclude Ned wouldn’t have spent the money on himself. He would have shared it with everyone in the village.
That night in bed Jackie has a dream bearing a premonition for him. In the dream he and Ned are fishing on a placid local lake. The sun is bright and golden, its light sparkling on the water. Jackie rows while Ned eats a plate full of chicken.
Here, Jackie, take some of this, Ned says. But Jackie is full and needs no more chicken.
Next morning Jackie explains the meaning of the portentous dream to Annie.
The chicken is the money, Jackie says. Ned wants us to have it. He is generous and wants to spread the wealth.
Fine, Annie says. Even so, the money is Ned’s, not the property of anyone else in the village. If Jackie is caught it’s a felony offence. No short-term jail time for him. Instead, a long prison term of at least 10 years. Jackie knows it but can’t get Ned’s dream out of his head and memory.
Jackie and Michael get together early that morning and go back to Ned’s cottage. Michael is frightened and appalled to see talkative, sociable Ned now in his present quiet eternal condition.
Together Jackie and Michael hatch a plan. From a public phone box they call the lotto number in Dublin. Maureen answers. Jackie lies and says he is Ned Devine and puts in a claim for the winning number.
Soon thereafter a helicopter flies north or maybe west. At any rate, to a peaceful bucolic place in a direction well beyond Dublin. Once there the lotto man inside the helicopter drives a rental car toward the village of Tullymore. But the country lanes are narrow and mightily confusing. The Dublin lotto man (Jim Kelly) gets lost. He also gets hay fever in the countryside and sneezes a lot.
Jackie and Michael are down at the beach again swimming in the waves in the nude. Why nude? Why not? Who’s to see or care? Jackie has Michael impersonate the lotto man and pepper him with questions about Ned’s past.
But Jim Kelly the lotto man is so lost that he and his car end up on the small lane that leads past the beach. He stops the car there and gets out.
Hey, there, Jim shouts toward Jackie. Is the village of Tullymore somewhere nearby? Yes it is, Jackie tells him. You’re not far off now. Secondly, Jim asks Jackie if he knows Ned Devine.
Think fast, Jackie. He does. He says, yes, he knows Ned and will help guide the man toward Ned’s cottage.
Sweet Jesus, Michael exclaims to himself. The lotto man didn’t see him on the beach because Michael was standing behind a rock face. But Jackie and the lotto man are now headed in the car for Ned’s cottage. Change of plan! Jackie is no longer Ned. Michael is Ned!
Michael fumbles on the beach to put his trousers on. Not possible, no time. So he hops on the motorbike in the nude, his only apparel shoes, socks and a crash helmet. What a comical moment! Michael looks like an old cartoon hero of mine, Mr. Wizard, or perhaps even like a naked version of Mr. Magoo. Yuck!
Michael races along short-cut country lanes on the motor bike to reach the cottage before Jackie and Jim can. He succeeds but the front door is now mysteriously latched. He’s round the back when Jackie and Jim arrive, as Jackie suspected. Jackie goes there.
Jesus, where are your clothes, man?
No time to put them on, Michael says.
Never mind. Jackie tells Jim that Ned is home but having a bath. A bath at mid-day! The peculiar and eccentric rural Irish. But actually Jim is good natured about it, a right gentleman with no airs of condescension whatsoever. He’s a likeable chap and someone in the village would offer him a pint if he weren’t the lotto man.
Michael emerges from his apparent bath, his shirt off, a towel round his waste. Should he get dressed, he asks Jim. Yes, that would be good, Jim replies.
But here’s a big snag. Which is? Jackie left the paperwork he pinched from Ned’s cottage the night before. Left it where? In the phone box where they made the call to Dublin. Jackie zooms back to the phone box on the motorbike, he himself now half naked, as he lent his shirt to Michael back at Ned’s cottage (to make him more presentable to Jim).
Problem solved when Jackie races back to the cottage and hands the paperwork to Ned through a window in the loo. There Michael sits on the pot and reads off information to Jim in the next room. Official information like date and place of birth, social security number, etc., etc.
Amazingly, Jim comes away satisfied but says he’ll have to return to the village in a couple day’s time to verify Ned’s identity among the local villagers.
Fine, they got rid of him. At least temporarily. Jackie is eternally grateful to Michael for his fine performance. Jessie would have been proud of you, he says. That she would, Michael agrees, and somewhere in heaven Jessie is smiling.
That evening Jackie holds a village meeting. Everyone attends. He explains the recent events involving Ned, Michael, himself and Jim, the Dublin lotto man. All for one and one for all, Jackie says. We’re in this together or we’re not in at all. All agree and the winnings will be split 52 ways into equal shares (value: over £130,000 each). A mighty cheer goes up.
The next plan is for everyone in the village to come to Jackie and Annie’s house before sundown the following day to sign an informal and secret agreement between the villagers. All must sign or the plan is off. Everyone comes but one. Oh, who is missing? It’s Lizzie Quinn, the local spinster/misanthrope whom everyone calls a witch.
She’ll burn for this, says Jackie. Either in hell or right there on the village green. Which locale it’s to be isn’t clear, but everyone is irate with Lizzie, the selfish, scheming old cow.
When confronted by the villagers the following day Lizzie remains stubborn and adamant. She won’t sign. Instead, she says she’ll call the lotto people in Dublin to report a local conspiracy and fraud. Why? Because the reward for such a report is 10 percent of the winnings. That means over £670,000. Jackie thinks she’s bluffing. At any rate, the villagers amend their original idea and cut her out of the winnings.
The day of Ned’s funeral arrives. He is to be consecrated in the local church and buried in its churchyard. On this bright sunny day everyone is assembled in the church. As it happens, it’s also the very day that Jim, the Dublin lotto man, returns to the village. When he arrives (during the funeral service) he can find no one present in the village, the place turned into ghost town.
But he makes his way to the church and wanders in. The local vicar has just finished eulogising Ned and now it’s Jackie’s turn to speak at the pulpit. Jim enters the vestry of the church. An almighty sneeze rocks the place. Everyone turns round to look at the stranger, knowing full well who he is because of his sneeze, as Jackie has told everyone how to recognise him when he returns.
And here he is standing in the church among them.
Among the many highlights of this enchanting film is Jackie’s speech in the church. He begins by saying the following just as Jim is opening the door to the church:
“As we look back on the life of….” [pause, hesitation, the lotto man’s almighty sneeze]
Jackie, think fast. He does. He looks round at all the anxious faces, sees Michael, continues:
“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t remember ever telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral, to sit at the front and hear what was said. Maybe to say a few words yourself. Michael and I grew old together. But at times when we laughed we grew younger. If he were here today, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”
What happens to the wicked village witch? Ah, to know this you will have to watch the film for the first time or watch it again if you have forgotten her fate after all these years. A great hint, however: they do not burn her at the stake.
The opening jaunty music by the Waterboys (“Fisherman’s Blues”) sets the tone for the film. If you know Ireland you know it’s not quite like this, yet dreamily similar and familiar. The Irish will tell their blarney because they can, and this is one of the great tales of blarney committed to film.
What would you have done with the £130,000? If it were me, I would return to Ireland and thank my lucky stars that such a place exists here on the planet I happen to call home.