The Last September

UK/Ireland/France 1999

Reviewed by Kevin Maher


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

A private estate in Cork, Ireland, 1920. Sir Richard and Lady Myra Naylor welcome their English visitors, Hugo and Francie Montmorency. Sir Richard's niece Lois is dancing flirtatiously in the garden with Captain Gerald Colthurst, an English soldier. That night Sir Richard laments the worsening Irish political situation. The next day the group welcome another visitor, Marda Norton, and organise a tennis party. Meanwhile Peter Connolly, a local Republican, kidnaps and shoots dead an English sergeant.

Hugo, Marda and Lois go for a walk to a ruined mill. Here Lois discovers Peter Connolly's hiding place. Hugo declares his affections for Marda while Lois secretly brings food to Peter. Peter attempts to rape Lois but he flees when Gerald arrives. Gerald later announces to Lady Myra his intention to marry Lois, but she protests his unsuitability. Undeterred, Lois returns to the mill to see Peter who forces himself on her but is once again disturbed by Gerald. This time he kills Gerald. Hugo and Francie leave the next morning. Marda then leaves for London, taking Lois with her.


"We're Irish!" says Marda to the clearly bemused English Captain Colthurst, "We look like you and we speak like you, but we're not like you!" It's a thematic motif (a national identity crisis among the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20s) that writer John Banville crudely hammers home throughout his uneven adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's subtle novel. Later Lois is erroneously told to go back to England, while Sir Richard explains to the still bemused Colthurst that both the IRA and the Naylors are proudly Irish. Here Banville unfortunately displays a political didacticism that's absent from Bowen's novel. What is allusive and simmering under the surface in Bowen becomes explicit in his screenplay.

Hence we have the appearance of the film's Irish rebel, Peter Connolly. In the novel, Connolly's unseen presence casts a menacing shadow over the high-society dances and tennis parties Bowen's characters attend. In elevating Connolly to a major dramatic character in his own right, Banville and debut feature director Deborah Warner, an established theatre director, have unfortunately fallen back on stock IRA-movie clichés. As played by Gary Lydon, Peter can trace his lineage to earlier on-screen IRA figures portrayed by actors such as Dirk Bogarde in The Gentle Gunman (1952), Stephen Rea in Angel and even Brad Pitt in The Devil's Own. In other words, he is taciturn, dashingly attractive (in an animalistic way), and can display sudden flashes of psychopathic menace. His intrusion into the central romance of Lois and Gerald is not only less than convincing, but also destructive to the story's dramatic momentum - Lois goes to the mill, almost gets raped, comes back, goes to the mill again, almost gets raped again and comes back again.

Lumbered with this stilted narrative (the screenplay is long on stagy declamatory speeches, but short on action), Warner has instead concentrated on the film's visual style. With the aid of regular Krzysztof Kieslowski cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, she has created a richly detailed portrait of decay. Lugubrious autumnal yellows and browns merge with the putrid green wallpaper (often peeling away) covering the interior of the Naylors' home. Meanwhile the same lime-green light falls through half-open shades, as if to hint at an encroaching Irish nationalism. And it's with impressive visual panache that Warner reveals several key moments through the sepia-tinted iris of Lois' spyglass. Clearly bound to Lois' sexual desire, it allows her to observe Peter with impunity, then falls on her own lips and then her body during her first sexual encounter.

Lois herself is played with coquettish enthusiasm by Hawes. The rest of the cast get by with often sketchily underwritten roles (David Tennant's bemused English officer is an especially unforgiving part). Add an eerie tintinnabulating soundtrack from other Kieslowski collaborator Zbigniew Preisner and you have a well crafted but sadly stagnant period drama.


Yvonne Thunder
John Banville
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen
Director of Photography
Slawomir Idziak
Kate Evans
Production Designer
Caroline Amies
Zbigniew Preisner
©The Matrix Films 'Last September' Partnership/
Scala Thunder Limited/IMA Films SA
Production Companies
Matrix Films and Scala present in association with Bord Scannán na héireann (The Irish Film Board)/Radio Telefís éireann with the participation of BSkyB and British Screen in association with IMA Films and Canal + a Scala Thunder/Matrix Films co-production
Pre-production financing by Freewheel International
Developed with support from the MEDIA Programme of the European Union
Developed with assistance from Bord Scannán na héireann/
The Irish Film Board
Produced with the support of investment incentives for the Irish film industry
Executive Producers
Stephen Woolley
Peter Fudakowski
Nik Powell
Neil Jordan
Born Scannán na héireann:
Rod Stoneman
Radio Telefís éireann:
Joe Mulholland
Co-executive Producer
George Benayoun
Marina Gefter
Line Producer
Mary Alleguen
Associate Producer
Sara Giles
Production Co-ordinator
Niamh Nolan
Location Manager
Andrew Hegarty
Post-production Supervisor
Stephen Barker
Assistant Directors
Peter Agnew
Charlotte Somers
Elizabeth O'Kelly
Script Supervisor
Pat Rambaut
Casting Director
Leo Davis
Special Effects Supervisor
Kevin Byrne
Art Director
Paul Kirby
Costume Designer
John Bright
Wardrobe Mistress
Janet Tebrooke
Make-up/Hair Designer
Christine Beveridge
Make-up Artist
Sarah Grundy
Chief Hairdresser
Patricia Cameron
Betty Glasow
Titles Design
General Screen Enterprises
Simon Chamberlain
Hugh Webb
John Parricelli
Robert Hill
Bass Clarinet:
Nicholas Bucknall
Lead Violin:
Jonathan Rees
James McLeod
Dermot Crehan
Wilfred Gibson
Roger Garland
Jonathan Strange
Anthony Pleeth
Double Bass:
Christopher Laurence
Frank Ricotti
Stephen Sidwell
Glass Harmonica:
Alasdair Malloy
Robert Ziegler
Music Research
Alison McArdle
"You Made Me Love You" by Al Jolson; "Sensation Rag" by Original Dixieland Jazzband; "Darktown Strutters Ball" by Lt Jim Europe
Cindy Cummins
Dance Instructor
Mark McDonnell
Sound Mixer
Dan Birch
Re-recording Mixer
Paul Hamblin
Dialogue Editor
Stewart Henderson
ADR Editor
Mike Redfern
Foley Editor
Derek Trigg
Stunt Co-ordinator
Patrick Condren
John McKenna
Horse Master
Richard Collins
Maggie Smith
Lady Myra Naylor
Michael Gambon
Sir Richard Naylor
Jane Birkin
Francie Montmorency
Fiona Shaw
Marda Norton
Lambert Wilson
Hugo Montmorency
David Tennant
Captain Gerald Colthurst
Richard Roxburgh
Keeley Hawes
Lois Farquar
Tom Hickey
Gary Lydon
Peter Connolly
Maeve Kearney
maid 1
Jonathan Slinger
Laurence Carstairs
Francine Mulrooney
maid 2
Emily Nagle
Livvy Connolly
Catherine Walsh
Doreen Hartigan
Bernie Downes
Nora Hartigan
Mikel Murfi
Sergeant Wilson
Arthur Riordan
Black and Tan soldier
Kieran Ahern
Daniel Connolly
Miles Horgan
Aaron Harris
Captain Vermont
Lesley McGuire
Mrs Vermont
Christina Wilson
maid 3
Mal Whyte
2nd officer
Tamsin MacCarthy
Marcie Mangan
Metro Tartan Distributors
9,286 feet
103 minutes 11 seconds
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011