The latest from writer-director Mark O’Connor, whose two previous features Between the Canals (2011) and Stalker (2012) were only given theatrical releases in his native Ireland, King of the Travellers (2012) is a contemporary drama about family devotion and the undying quest for revenge, set amongst the traditions of the Irish traveller community. In an effort to forge a quasi-gangster slant on the escalating familial drama, O’Connor does well to map the dangers, not to mention vented frustrations, of becoming entrenched within a constantly threatening environment – yet fails on almost every level to mix this with a dull plot.
Real life traveller John Connors plays John Paul Moorehouse, an angry, frustrated teenager whose quest to seek redemption for his father’s death twelve years ago is intensified by the mounting threat of a rival family – the violent Powers clan – in his close-knit community. Guided by his uncle Francis (Michael Collins), the secretive, self-imposed head of the family, John Paul partakes in illegally-sanctioned bareknuckle boxing matches in order to settle the two clan’s many scores. However, when John Paul rekindles his feelings for childhood sweetheart Winnie (Carla McGlynn), who’s a member of the antagonising Powers family, the two warring sides collide with inevitably devastating outcomes.
Incorporating more than a passing resemblance to the narrative and broad themes at play in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, King of the Travellers is a near-total mess of ideas drowned out by a lack of tonal consistency. Meeting components found in Shakespearean drama with modern frameworks is not exactly a new technique, and O’Connor brings nothing new to the table, letting it lay dormant as nothing more than surface texture. This is exemplified by the slipshod subplot regarding John Paul’s apparent devotion to Winnie; she’s supposedly the love of his life, yet is both terribly played and badly introduced, being subsequently handled with careless abandon
As an illumination of something of a niche subject matter, O’Connor’s King of the Travellers dutifully employs the usual gritty narrative and visual trappings. Sadly, in attempting to incorporate themes of friendship, treachery and, ultimately, retribution into an arid story of turf wars, O’Connor sacrifices emotional complexity for a desperately meandering momentum.