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Cillian Murphy ’emotionally knocked out’ by new film

Cillian Murphy has said his new film, Small Things Like These, uncovers a dark chapter in recent Irish society and that he was “emotionally knocked out” by the story of a Magdalene Laundry in smalltown Ireland in the 1980s.

The film is an adaptation of Claire Keegan’s bestseller of the same name and will become the first Irish film to open the Berlin International Film Festival tonight.

Murphy stars opposite Zara Devlin, Emily Watson, Eileen Walsh, and Michelle Fairley in the adaptation of Wexford author Keegan’s 2021 Booker Prize-nominated novel and is also among the producers.

According to the synopsis, the film takes place in an Irish town over Christmas in 1985, “when devoted father and coal merchant Bill Furlong (Murphy) discovers startling secrets kept by the convent in his town, along with some shocking truths of his own.

“The film reveals truths about Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries – horrific asylums run by Roman Catholic institutions from the 1820s until 1996, ostensibly to reform ‘fallen young women’.”

Speaking to RTÉ at the Berlinale, Muphy said: “It’s a lot to take on, it’s certainly a collective trauma we’re all processing. My generation and an older generation, it is still something we are trying to figure out.

“Books and art and film can be a balm to that wound more than government reports or academic papers.

“I think above all the film has to entertain and you have to be involved in it emotionally, but if it asks a few questions, that’s a bonus.”

Watch: Cillian Murphy says there is “an incredible amount of talent” in Ireland

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Small Things Like These tells a very Irish story, but Murphy doesn’t see that as a barrier to the film attracting a wider audience

“Its universality lies in its specificity,” he said.

“We showed it in New York and LA and people responded in the same way and the response we’re having here in Berlin is the same. There are very raw emotions to the film that people respond to, and the fact that it’s located in Irish society is no barrier to it.”

Small Things Like These, which aims to be in cinemas this Autumn, reunites Murphy with Peaky Blinders director Tim Mielants, and the script has been written by Murphy’s longtime collaborator, playwright Enda Walsh.

Speaking about how the project came about, the Cork actor said: “I love Caire Keegan’s work, all of her work, and I read the story quite early. It knocked me out emotionally, I thought it was beautiful and then I began to think of it as a film slowly, then I brought it to Alan, brought it to Tim and then Enda. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became involved and then Eileen and it gathered momentum really quickly.”

Cillian Murphy as Bill Furling in the big-screen adaption of Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These

Speaking about this Sunday’s BAFTAs, where he is nominated for Best Actor for his lead role in Oppenheimer, and the Oscars in March, where he is also in the running for Best Actor, Murphy said: “It’s all very exciting, I’m thrilled by it all, a little overwhelmed, there’s a lot of travelling but it’s amazing for the film. We can’t believe the response that it’s had with the audience obviously and then our peers. We’re all in a little bit of shock.”

He also laughed off the idea that there will be a friendly rivalry between him and fellow Irish actor Barry Keoghan, who is Bafta-nominated for Best Actor for Saltburn.

“Not at all. He’s just a genius actor and I’ve worked with him and I’ll be hanging out with him on Sunday, I’m looking forward to it.”

Speaking about the current golden age for Irish arts and movies in particular, he added: “I think it’s incredible the talent coming out of the country. I don’t have the answer as to why that is but it’s really rich time and long may I last. We just have to encourage that talent.”

Additional reporting by Alan Corr

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