Director: Conor Horgan
Cast: Panti Bliss
Certificate: 86 minutes
Running Time: 15a
Release Date: October 21st
I hope it doesn’t diminish my opinion on the quality of this documentary to say that I went in assuming I was in no way the target demographic. I was intrigued by the topic, naturally, had voted yes earlier this year and had heard rumblings of Panti Bliss and Rory O’Neill (no relation to yours truly) but was certainly no expert. I also have spent most of my life liking mainly girls, and while that scope has thinned to one specific girl of late, it never really widened into anything beyond that. Not only that, but I was born in the early nineties, so I don’t even have the luxury of homophobic friends or, honestly, family. Everyone I know is either cool with it or gay themselves, so it seems I couldn’t take up arms even if I wanted to. So I went in wondering if Queen of Ireland might feel as if it was meant for someone else. I was delighted to find this entirely unfounded.
Following a brief sequence after the announcement of the yes vote, we begin by watching Rory and his family speak of his early life in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, a far cry from the gay clubs of Dublin, London and Tokyo that unbeknownst to them, lie ahead. It is a story familiar to anyone who is or has known or admired a homosexual person in the past: Rory was happy and at home until he realised he was, somehow, different. This feeling of isolation leads to a happy escape to boarding school, followed by the decision to go to art school where Rory crosses the threshold into a world of underground gay night clubs, dancing to the Pointer Sisters, hidden from those on the streets above.
What was up until this point a touching biographical piece, now bifurcates and we begin to hear two parallel stories, one of Rory as he explores his homosexuality and becomes a drag queen, alongside a timeline of homosexuality in Ireland, as gay friends of Rory appear as talking heads begin to comment on their opinions and history as men and women who fancy men and women respectively.
In Japan, Rory as a drag queen gains the name Panti for the punter’s convenience, and from there we watch as she gains a life of her own. Panti and Rory return to Ireland to work with clubs and it is touching to watch how important she becomes to him and the rest of gay community. There are personal lows and highs, from Rory’s HIV diagnosis to the more high profile cases of the Brendan O’Connor controversy and the Noble Call speech.
Naturally, it leads to the only logical climax, the 2015 gay marriage referendum, where we see the real beauty of this documentary. Along with being a piece on the life of this man and the ‘giant cartoon woman’ he portrays, it is a loving tribute to the social change this year, and rightly so. At times, it is fluff and it never offers any contrary argument but honestly who needs one, Queen of Ireland is a wonderful, interesting journey through an oppressed, people that happily becomes much more accepted. And they never go on the attack.
Go to see it for all the lives that are touched, or for Panti’s wit, or for her excellent return to Ballinrobe towards the end. Really, there were so many reasons. There is something here for everyone, whether gay, straight or whatever is going on with some of Panti’s most vicious malefactors. As fun, glamorous and hilarious as befits its titular queen.