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The Quiet Girl review – gorgeous Irish-language debut sneaks up on you

Colm Bairean's small, gentle story of a magical childhood summer is a warm hug of a film laced with just the right amount of drama

As feels fitting for its title, The Quiet Girl sneaks up on you. Here is a film that moves at its own unhurried pace, never really breaking its stride or raising its voice and, yet, by its end you’ll feel entirely battered by it, its subtle crescendos finally reaching the point where they break through and pierce your heart. A small but gorgeous debut from writer-director Colm Bairead, this Irish-language drama is a wonderful calling card for both its creator and its young star Catherine Clinch.

Clinch plays Cait, a girl of about 9 in ‘80s rural Ireland. Stuck in her bungalow with her heavily pregnant and harried mother, three mean older sisters, one screaming toddler, and a feckless drunk of a dad, the signs of her neglect are clear as she retreats into silence, struggles to keep up with her classmates’ reading, and sometimes still wets the bed. Without consulting Cait, her parents decide it’d be best to send her away for the summer, at least until the new baby is born, and so she is shipped off to an imposing country house owned by her mum’s cousin Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Sean (Andrew Bennett).

Though scared at first, Cait acclimatises well to this new arrangement, the peace of the house immediately doing her good. Clinch gives a remarkable performance, bringing Cait out of her shell with minimal dialogue as her relationship with Eibhlin and Sean develops. They take great care of her, both in the house and on their farm, where Cait finds she loves pitching in, though there’s clearly an old but profound pain haunting them too, and the gradual coming together of, and understanding between, these three fractured people is deeply moving.

Bairead, adapting Claire Keegan’s novella Foster, keeps the typical Big Moments of a drama like this to a minimum, instead letting his great character work and a trio of touching performances allow the audience to absorb the minute changes in the house dynamic as Cait and her new temporary surrogate parents grow closer. Tension eases to the point you practically forget this isn’t actually Cait’s home, and any obvious life lesson speeches are scrapped in favour of gentle seaside chats and the offering of custard creams as an olive branch after a small argument.

It does mean The Quiet Girl often keeps its emotions at a low simmer, but this slow burn really pays off come the captivating, and just a little bit devastating, final scene, which perfectly balances the hope and despair Cait has been swinging between since the start. It also helps that the whole thing just looks so pretty, the golden light of the summer sun bathing almost every scene, while the occasional night-time sequences have a hint of the mystical about them with bright moonlight and clever blocking. The Quiet Girl must have had a rather minimal budget, but Bairead never lets that show on screen.

Packed with kindness and empathy, but also never quite letting go of an undercurrent of dread, The Quiet Girl is beautiful and compelling, even in its slowest moments. Bairead has marked himself as a major talent to watch, bringing a slight story to genuinely cinematic life, and providing us with probably hugs you’ll see in any movie this year.

The Quiet Girl is released in UK cinemas on 13 May.

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