'After the Dance': Film Review

Courtesy of Roads Entertainment
Too digressive to have the desired dramatic impact

Daisy Asquith's documentary concerns her and her mother's search for information about the family secret that led to the latter's being given up for adoption.

Veteran British television documentary filmmaker Daisy Asquith digs deep into her family roots in her new film concerning a decades-old secret involving her mother being born out wedlock and given up for adoption. Examining the oppressive environment fostered by the Catholic Church in rural Ireland, After the Dance is an affecting if at times rambling documentary that doesn't fully succeed in making its familial concerns of wider interest. The film was recently featured in NYC's Stranger Than Fiction documentary festival.

A detective story of sorts, the film finds Daisy and her mother Pat traveling to Ireland's far west coast to search for the distant relatives who might be able to provide the missing pieces to the puzzle. It turns out that Asquith's grandmother had a sexual encounter with a man in a hay barn after a local dance. Too ashamed to raise the child herself, she ran away to England and gave the baby to nuns — shades of Philomena — who arranged for its adoption by an English couple. Although Pat traveled to Ireland many years later and met her eight half-siblings, she was not received warmly by most of the clan who considered her a stain on the family.

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The animus apparently continues to this day, with one of Daisy's aunts sending her a letter forbidding her from setting foot on her property. But at least one, Pat's half-sister Siobhan, is sympathetic to their efforts while understanding the prejudice that resulted in Pat's banishment.

"Religion was all people had," Siobhan points out.   

When Daisy and Pat arrive in remote County Clare, they encounter a gallery of colorful local types — their thick brogues clarified via subtitles — who helpfully provide information that leads them to Pat's cousin Johnny and his wife, Mary, who live a life of rural isolation and simplicity. The couple informs them that Pat's father, Tom Brown, a lady-killer described as "the Elvis of West Clare," decamped to New York City in the 1950s, with little known about his life thereafter.

Mother and daughter, accompanied by their relatives who have never been on a plane and haven't traveled beyond Limerick, proceed on a journey to New York. There they meet their gregarious cousin Stevie who shows them the Bronx house in which the mysterious Tom lived.

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The film's effectiveness is undercut by an overuse of stock footage of Ireland in the 1940s and the lavish attention paid to the quirky modern-day citizens that give it a sometimes patronizing, ethnographic feel. And while the elderly Johnny and Mary prove endearing — "We find that if people don't do any harm, we're happy with them," Johnny explains — far too much of the brief running time concerns their wide-eyed reactions to the bright lights of New York City.

At times feeling too calculated in its cutesiness, After the Dance, which also suffers from ragged camerawork and sound, fails to exploit its provocative themes in sufficiently dramatic fashion.

Production: Roads Entertainment, Dandy Films
Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Daisy Asquith
Producers: Doireann de Buitlear, Alan Maher
Executive producers: Nick Fraser, Rory Gilmartin, Kate Townsend
Editor: Alan Mackay
Composer: Oisin Lunny

Not rated, 77 min.