Wren Boys: A Chat With Gay Love Story Director Harry Lighton

The film will be shown as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

A close up of two men embracing in a still from the short film 'Wren Boys'

Wren Boys, a short film which tells the story of a Catholic priest from Cork who drives his nephew to prison on bleak Stephen’s Day to marry a maverick gay inmate, has been touring festivals, picking up tons of acclaim along the way. The film’s director, Harry Lighton, spoke to GCN about getting the film made, gay marriage and adventures on the festival circuit.

How would you sum up the themes of Wren Boys?

Wren Boys explores tradition. Some individuals look critically at the past and remould traditions; some just can’t be bothered with it; and some bite back against the spirit of change.

What was your inspiration for making it? 

I read a penal reform report asking whether Irish inmates would be able to openly celebrate the referendum result. The answer in male prisons was no. But I wanted to open the door to this possibility by presenting a maverick gay inmate’s marriage being celebrated by the other prisoners.

At the same time, I wanted to temper this optimism. Individuals bite back against the tide of progression. Religion and bigotry don’t need to be bedfellows – tradition can be cruel, but it isn’t by necessity.

I started thinking about other outmoded Irish traditions. On St Stephen’s Days of old, local boys would be sent out to kill a wren. The community would then gather to bury it, bidding farewell to the past and beckoning in the new year. The tradition continues, but a fake wren has replaced the real bird. It struck me as a good frame for the story of a priest looking at religious tradition critically in the light of a new Ireland, whilst holding on to his personal notion of morality.

Could you tell us about the film’s journey to being made?

London Calling was a Film London scheme, a bit like the X-Factor, but with very fabulous executives in the place of Louis Walsh. Your team had to pass through various rounds and a final pitch before you got the 4K grant. Of course Wren Boys cost four times that, but the support from script through edit and beyond was like nothing we’d had before.

What have the reactions been like so far from audiences?

It’s been a really fun film to watch in the cinema with audiences. The ending divides. Along the way there’s all sorts of (often quite vocal) emotions. Playing at the Galway Film Fleadh was particularly fun as the audience got the gags in the vernacular.

Can you see yourself returning to LGBT+ themes in later work?

For sure. Not exclusively though, and not because I set out to. It’s more that ideas come from what angers/delights/confounds me. And that’s often queer. Actually, I have three projects I’m working on at the moment (a feature; a short and a TV single), all of which have a queer aspect to them. I’m branching out from only making dramas about the relationship between gays and football commentary. 

The Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival starts on February 20.

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