- Toward a “Post-Troubles” Cinema? The Troubled Intersection of Political Violence and Gender in Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto
Belfast Good Friday 1998
The war over, now perhaps we too can take—however tentatively—those first few steps which may end unease and see us there; home, belonging and at peace.patrick mcCabe, Breakfast on Pluto
Patrick McCabe concludes the preface to the American edition of his novel Breakfast on Pluto (1998) with this personal note written in response to the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which promised an end to three decades of political conflict. Irish director Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto (2005) is his latest film—after Angel (1982), The Crying Game (1992), and Michael Collins (1996)—set against the history of violent, “criminal” resistance to British rule in Ireland and to the partition of the island. Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke contrasts Breakfast on Pluto to Jordan’s earlier film The Crying Game, describing it as a “post-Troubles film” given its release “after a decade of quasi-peace in Northern Ireland.” But although released in a very different epoch that postdates the Good Friday Agreement, the film adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto occupies the same ideological territory as Jordan’s earlier Troubles films, especially The Crying Game.
Like these films, Breakfast on Pluto tends toward a liberal humanist schema whereby the journey of an individual is given primacy over [End Page 164] collective historical and political forces at work during the Troubles. For Jordan, it is the moral choices of the protagonist—rather than institutions of state power or socioeconomic factors—that determine his or her embrace or rejection of violent tactics. In The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto, however, this moral journey of the individual is inextricably tied to gender. The arc of the narrative in both films begins with the protagonists enmeshed in the violent, “masculine” politics of the Irish borderlands and culminates with “feminine” redemption in English domesticity.
The Troubled Reception of Jordan’s Troubles Trilogy
The links between The Crying Game and the film adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto, which was co-written by Jordan and McCabe, are undeniable. Both films not only take place in the Irish borderlands and in London during the Troubles, but they also feature transgender central characters.1 Dil in The Crying Game is a black hairdresser whose deceased lover, a British soldier from Antigua named Jody, was held hostage by the IRA in Northern Ireland. She unknowingly falls in love with one of Jody’s captors, Fergus, who has fled to London to start a new life and fulfill a promise to the deceased soldier. Kitten (born Patrick Braden) in Breakfast on Pluto is an adolescent who travels to London in search of her mother, Eily Bergin. Eily fled the Irish border town of Tyreelin as a young woman after giving birth to the child of the parish priest, for whom she had served as a housekeeper. The parallels between the two films continue in the intersection of politics and romance. Dil’s fraught relationship with Fergus, whose IRA past follows him to London, mirrors Kitten’s precarious affair with Billy Hatchett, a show-band singer in the Irish borderlands who is also a reluctant IRA accomplice. Finally, the protagonists of both films, Fergus and Kitten, spend time in British prisons for crimes (committed by others) that are tied to the IRA’s campaign in London. [End Page 165]
In response to Jordan’s suggestion that The Crying Game may have been on McCabe’s mind when he wrote Breakfast on Pluto, McCabe has said, somewhat evasively in a joint interview with Jordan, “It may well have been in there” (qtd. in Clarke). Whether or not McCabe was explicitly thinking of Jordan’s film, the novel’s overt associations with The Crying Game made the director initially reluctant to make an adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto. The principal reason was that the earlier film had generated much controversy upon its release in the United Kingdom and Ireland, particularly in English tabloid newspapers. The most contentious...