The Quiet Girl: Film to Book

After seeing the Oscars, I went to see The Quiet Girl on the big screen. It is set in Ireland and centers around a nine-year old girl’s life. It is spoken in Gaelic, a dying language still spoken in rural Ireland. Cait (Catherine Clinch) often wanders off and hides and the movie opens with her sisters looking for her as she lays still in a field.

And thus the story continues as she decides to go home to a house filled with children and a pregnant mother. She hides under her bed with no sheets and it is clear that she is a bed-wetter. The family is both poor and over-stretched for room and peace.  She has trouble reading at school and other students taunt her and tell her sisters that she is weird.  Then she overhears her parents saying that she is going away to her mother’s cousin’s home for the summer. The mother says that she can go forever as far as she is concerned. 

Her father drives her and he is clearly short-tempered, drinks heavily and even picks up some woman he knows as they drive to the cousin’s home. Once at the Kinsella’s wealthy home, they reluctantly receive her but the wife, Eibhlin is attentive. She takes Cait under her wing, bathes her, brushes her hair counting up to 100 strokes, teaches her to cook and gives her clothes from a nearby closet. Eibhlin sees that Cait is a bed wetter and after a discussion, Cait asks her if she should keep it a secret. She tells her that there are no secrets in their household and says that where there are secrets, there is shame.

This is the first subtle implication that there may have been some molestation going on and it is understood by Eibhlin. The nurturing continues and the father finally warms to Cait and he too, teaches her how to work on the farm. He times her daily as she runs down the long lane to the mailbox and he helps her with her reading. Through a neighbor’s gossip, Cait discovers that the Kinsellas’ son had drowned and that she has been wearing the dead boy’s clothes.

They take her shopping, doll her up, love her and singing and affection return to the grief-stricken Kinsellas. When the summer ends, she returns home and the audience’s hearts probably dropped, as mine did at that moment. She enters her home of poverty and her family members stand back and look at her in awe. She could never fit in. She sprints and runs to chase the Kinsellas’ car and catches them. It ends with Mr. Kinsella picking her up and holding her and his wife sobs in the car. Her real father has followed her and she can see him  over Kinsella’s shoulder. She is saying,”Daddy,” either to warn Kinsella or perhaps saying, you have been a real daddy to me.

This film was nominated as a Best International Film for 2023, though All Quiet on the Western Front won the category. It is the first Irish film ever nominated for the category and it was based on a novella (88 pages) called Foster by Claire Keegan. I immediately purchased it on Kindle and read it to compare it to the film. I must say that the movie producer followed the details almost to the letter.

In the short story, Cait is telling the story and it seems less sad. She sees life through a child’s wonder but there are again subtle references to the relationship with the father.  One major difference is when Cait almost drowns in the well like the son had drowned. In the movie, we see her wet, cold and frozen after having fallen in the well. However in the book, a small hand pulls her into the well, implying that it was that of the drowned boy in whose room she now sleeps. 

The author was pressed on many unclear points in the story, but she gave nothing away; however, certain parts of the book’s text were underlined or highlighted pointing back to the real source of her disconnect from others in the family. The majesty of the Irish countryside, the superb acting and poignant thoughts about universal problems make both the movie worth seeing and the novella worth reading.

Lynn M.
March 15, 2023

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