Pat Collins’ That They May Face The Rising Sun is a powerful and delicate portrayal of ordinary life in rural Ireland.
At the very beginning of That They May Face The Rising Sun, the audience is introduced to the setting with a long two-minute establishing shot accompanied by classical music. And if the film could be summed up in one frame, I am sure it would be this one: a peaceful landscape with the sun rising amongst the clouds on a scenic lake surrounded by nature, seemingly untouched by human presence. It almost feels like a moment frozen in time, inviting us to reflect on the uncorrupted beauty of nature, like a cinematic rendition of an English romantic painting by J. M. W. Turner.
The film is based on the critically acclaimed book of the same name by the Irish novelist John McGahern. That They May Face The Rising Sun is set in a rural Irish community where Joe Ruttledge (Barry Ward) and Kate Ruttledge (Anna Bederke) have moved back to from London to live and work in the small lakeside community in Ireland where Joe had grown up. As we see their daily life as a key part of their community, we also get to know the rituals of the work that define their days as well as the routine they have created there. Similarly, through them, the audience also learns more about the rest of the people who make up this community, including Patrick Ryan (Lalor Roddy) and Sean McGinley (Johnny Murphy).
The cinematography of the film is one of its most impressive elements: with every shot, it makes the audience feel like we are actually there and experiencing the rural lifestyle ourselves. In some ways, it is safe to say that the setting truly is the key to the movie, even more so than its plot. As such, it seems only right that the film would portray its location with such care and beautiful shots, so much so that That They May Face The Rising Sun makes its spectator become deeply familiar with its location, almost as if the very setting of the movie was a character in of itself.
The filmalso highlights the importance of a community. While the setting is such an important part of the film, much of the plot revolves around the community that lives in this location. As the movie progresses, the audience gains an insider look into how this community operates: how they always support and care for each other, especially in times of need, and how everyone contributes to the community’s life in the best way they can.
Each character in That They May Face The Rising Sun is important in its own way. While they are not formally introduced, the audience quickly gets to know the peculiar and interesting characters that constitute the heart of the community Joel and Kate live in and the heart of the very film itself as if they were their own neighbours. As such, by the end of the film we come to know and love these characters just as they have learned to know and love each other throughout the years.
That They May Face The Rising Sun successfully opens a window into a year in the life in rural Ireland, introducing many of us who may have not been familiar with it before to a different lifestyle, one that is not often portrayed in media. It is a testament to a way of life that is now largely gone and a way of honouring and remembering the daily lives of rural communities. As such, the filmgives importance to the everyday moments of ordinary, mundane life. These moments shown in the film are significant and fascinating because they are ordinary, not in spite of it.
That They May Face The Rising Sun will have its World Premiere at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival on 8 October. Read our interview with stars Barry Ward and Anna Bederke!