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Commitments, The (1991)

Footage courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Main image of Commitments, The (1991)
DirectorAlan Parker
Production CompaniesFirst Film Company, Dirty Hands, Beacon Communications
ProducersRoger Randall-Cutler, Lynda Myles
ScreenplayDick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Roddy Doyle
Original novelRoddy Doyle
CinematographyGale Tattersall
Music ArrangerPaul Bushnell

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Cast: Robert Arkins (Jimmy Rabbitte); Andrew Strong (Deco Cuffe); Michael Aherne (Steven Clifford); Angeline Ball (Imelda Quirke); Maria Doyle (Natalie Murphy); Dave Finnegan (Mickah Wallace); Bronagh Gallagher (Bernie McGloughlin); Felim Gormley (Dean Fay); Glen Hansard (Outspan Foster); Dick Massey (Billy Mooney); Johnny Murphy (Joey 'The Lips' Fagan); Kenneth McCluskey (Derek Scully); Colm Meaney (Mr Rabbitte)

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North Dublin wheeler-dealer Jimmy Rabbitte, dreaming of music stardom, decides to form a soul band from the local community. But despite their talent, The Commitments' internal squabbling proves a major obstacle on the road to success.

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In casting the band at the centre of what was his fourth musical, director Alan Parker auditioned over 3,000 musicians, picking the top 12. It's the old manufactured pop band trick, but Parker also manufactured his cast - 10 of the main players had no previous acting experience.

Music is the most important element of The Commitments (1991), as illustrated by Parker's choice of Andrew Strong to play lead singer Deco Cuffe. Strong was the 16-year-old son of a Dublin singer Parker had been using to rehearse with. When the singer grew hoarse, his son stepped in and unleashed his huge voice. Parker cast him on the spot, acting ability a secondary consideration.

Based on the novel by Roddy Doyle, originally a schoolteacher in deprived North Dublin, The Commitments is something of a rags-to-riches story that sees the group fall just short of stardom - mainly due to inter-band bickering - but offers them a glimpse of hope.

It is through the wily leadership of ambitious manager Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) that the band comes together, and his influence directs the Commitments' soul sound. It seems a perplexing choice - how can a bunch of white, North Dublin teenagers identify with a predominantly African-American style of music? But Jimmy's logic is persuasive: "The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin."

Themes of class and dreams of escape from poverty run through the film. On the council estate on which Jimmy lives, kids watch tires burn, derelict cars litter the street, dogs run wild and the desolate unemployed struggle to fill their days.

The band offers its members a taste of camaraderie (however brief) and, perhaps for the first time, a sense of purpose. As Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher) protests when Jimmy threatens her with expulsion from the band: "I need something to look forward to."

These themes underpin what is essentially a loud, rocking, comic extravaganza, which is, by and large, concerned less with its social message than with making its audience dance in its seat (with evident success - the two soundtrack albums sold a combined 12 million copies). What sets the film apart from comparable Hollywood films like Flashdance (d. Adrian Lyne, 1983), however, is the way Parker, as in his earlier Fame (US, 1980), allows ugly reality to intrude as the band's dreams fall apart.

Paul Clarke

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Video Clips
Production stills
Alan Parker: The Guardian Interview (1991)
Clement, Dick (1937-) and La Frenais, Ian (1936-)
Hambling, Gerry (1926-)
La Frenais, Ian (1936-) and Clement, Dick (1937-)
Parker, Alan (1944-)