Dance First is a 2023 biographical film about Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, directed by James Marsh and written by Neil Forsyth. Gabriel Byrne stars as Beckett, with a supporting cast featuring Fionn O'Shea as a younger Beckett and Aidan Gillen as James Joyce.

Dance First
Release poster
Directed byJames Marsh
Written byNeil Forsyth
Produced by
  • Michael Livingstone
  • Tom Thostrup
  • Fabian Westerhof
  • Viktória Petrányi
  • Deborah Aston
CinematographyAntonio Paladino
Edited byDavid Charap
Distributed bySky Cinema
Release dates
  • 30 September 2023 (2023-09-30) (Zinemaldia)
  • 3 November 2023 (2023-11-03) (United Kingdom)
Running time
100 minutes[2]
  • United Kingdom
  • Belgium
  • Hungary

Synopsis edit

The film documents the Irish writer's life, from his childhood, his friendship with James Joyce until the incarceration of the latter's mentally ill daughter Lucia Joyce, his relationship with his future wife Suzanne Dumesnil, his time as a fighter for the French Resistance during the Second World War, his postwar literary rise and subsequent Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, his affair with translator Barbara Bray and his later life until his death in 1989. Throughout the film, Beckett carries out an interior monologue.[3]

Cast edit

Production edit

Development edit

In November 2021, it was announced that James Marsh was to direct the bio-pic with Gabriel Byrne playing Beckett from a screenplay from Neil Forsyth and a title taken from Beckett's ethos on life of "Dance first, think later". The project was developed with Sky Arts in the U.K. and produced by 2LE Media's Michael Livingstone and Tom Thostrup, alongside Viktória Petrányi of Hungary's Proton Cinema and Belgium's Umedia.[5]

Casting edit

The project isn't the first time Forsyth has written about Beckett - his Sky Playhouse short film Waiting for Andre was about the real-life friendship between Beckett and a teenage Andre the Giant.[6] In May 2022, it was announced that Aidan Gillen joined the cast along with Sandrine Bonnaire and Fionn O'Shea as a younger Samuel Beckett.[7] Gillen confirmed to The Times that his role was that of James Joyce and that Marsh is “a great film-maker, so the Beckett story is in good hands.”[8] In September 2022, it was revealed that Maxine Peake, Robert Aramayo, Leonie Lojkine, Bronagh Gallagher, Lisa Dwyer Hogg, Barry O'Connor and Gráinne Good had joined the cast.[9]

Filming edit

Principal photography began in Budapest in May 2022.[10] Filming locations in Budapest included the corner of Gerlóczy utca and Vitkovics Mihály utca, the steps of the Vígszínház, Dohány utca, the lobby of Hotel Gellért and the New York Kávéház.[11]

On set in Budapest Byrne was interviewed by The Guardian and described the project as an effort to flesh out a character whom “people know very little about. He was a man who had a sense of humour, who was deeply emotional, who was a failure in his own eyes for a great deal of his life”. Byrne described how the man's sense of self contrasts greatly with the global notoriety and fame that came from being subsequently awarded the Nobel prize, and yet how he remained a man “who lived the last part of his life alone in a very simple room in a nursing home”. Discussing his performance Byrne said “Physically I can sketch him, but with this film we are not looking for an impersonation of Beckett, rather a sense of who he was. What you want is people to believe the man, not focus their attention on the wig or the makeup or the false nose.”[12]

Release edit

The film closed the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival's official selection on 30 September 2023.[13][14] The film was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 3 November 2023, by Sky Cinema in association with StudioCanal.[15]

Reception edit

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 46% of 13 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.3/10.[16]

The Guardian's Claire Armitstead called Dance First, "a small masterpiece" and said of Byrne's performance, "such is the power of the storytelling that within minutes you believe in him entirely".[17] The Irish Times called the film "striking" and praised O'Shea's "excellent" performance and Gallagher's "fine turn".[18] The Times called Byrne "one of Ireland's great actors".[19] Screen Daily called the film's formal premise "ingenious", adding there is "definitely a Beckettian ring to the dialogue" and called Byrne's performance, "rueful but often tartly humorous evocation of Beckett as a vulnerable, tender figure, he convincingly humanises a writer often represented as an inaccessibly lofty secular prophet".[20] In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw mentioned Gillen's performance as one of the best in a supporting role on film in 2023.[21]

In March 2024, Bronagh Gallagher was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the IFTA Film & Drama Awards.[22]

References edit

  1. ^ Dalton, Ben. "UK-Ireland cinema release dates: latest updates for 2023". Screen International. Retrieved December 6, 2023.
  2. ^ "Dance First". British Board of Film Classification. September 12, 2023. Retrieved September 13, 2023.
  3. ^ "Aidan Gillen joins Gabriel Byrne's Beckett movie Dance First". RTE. May 19, 2022.
  4. ^ Armistead, Claire (September 22, 2023). "A lot of biopics depend on likeness – this is braver': Gabriel Byrne on playing Samuel Beckett". The Guardian. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  5. ^ "Oscar Winner James Marsh to Direct Samuel Beckett Biopic 'Dance First,' Starring Gabriel Byrne". Variety. November 4, 2021.
  6. ^ "New! Dance First, a film about Samuel Beckett". November 8, 2021.
  7. ^ "Gabriel Byrne and Aidan Gillen sign on for Samuel Beckett biopic". Irish Central.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Murphy, Lauren. "Aidan Gillen "For edginess, TV is where it's at"". The Times.
  9. ^ "First look: Gabriel Byrne as Samuel Beckett in James Marsh's biopic 'Dance First'". Screen Daily.
  10. ^ "Aidan Gillen joins Gabriel Byrne's Beckett movie Dance First". May 19, 2022.
  12. ^ "Gabriel Byrne: 'I was never not conscious of being Irish'". The Guardian.
  13. ^ "San Sebastian Film Festival". sansebastianfestival. Retrieved August 21, 2023.
  14. ^ Barraclough, Leo (September 21, 2023). "Sky Debuts Trailer for James Marsh's 'Dance First,' Starring Gabriel Byrne, Ahead of World Premiere at San Sebastian Film Festival (Exclusive)". Variety.
  15. ^ Dalton, Ben (November 3, 2023). "UK-Ireland box office preview: 'How To Have Sex', 'Bottoms', 'The Royal Hotel' lead new openers". Screen International. Retrieved December 6, 2023.
  16. ^ "Dance First". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 8, 2023.
  17. ^ "A lot of biopics depend on likeness – this is braver: Gabriel Byrne on playing Samuel Beckett". The Guardian. September 22, 2023.
  18. ^ "Fionn O'Shea on being cast as Samuel Beckett: 'There was a moment of elation followed by crippling anxiety'". October 29, 2023.
  19. ^ "Gabriel Byrne: 'I can't understand how I went from Walkinstown to Hollywood'". The Times. October 25, 2023.
  20. ^ "'Dance First': San Sebastian Review". Screen Daily. October 1, 2023.
  21. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (December 22, 2023). "And the 2023 Braddies go to … Peter Bradshaw's film picks of the year". The Guardian. Retrieved December 22, 2023.
  22. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (March 14, 2024). "Cillian Murphy, Andrew Scott Among Irish Film & TV Awards Nominees; 'Lies We Tell' Leads Feature Categories – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 14, 2024.

External links edit