Sanctuary  (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Len Collin, Ireland, 2016, 86 mins

Cast:  Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty

Review by Carol Allen

“Sanctuary” is a comedy, a drama and a most unusual love story.  Set in Galway the central characters are Larry (Coppinger), who has Downs Syndrome and Sophie (Kelly), who suffers from severe epilepsy. 

On a trip to the cinema with a group of other adults with intellectual disabilities and with the help of the group’s care worker Tom (Doherty), they sneak away to a hotel room to enjoy some private time together.  They are in love but if they have sex, they are breaking the Irish law, which forbids such activity for people with such disabilities – a law which has since been changed, partly due to the impact this film has had in its native Ireland.

Most of the cast are members of the Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway, who have been creating theatre with actors with intellectual disabilities since 1996 – the film’s writer Christian O’Reilly originally wrote it as a play for the company –  and the two leads in particular show themselves as very accomplished young actors.   Coppinger plays Larry as a man who, despite his disability, is intelligent, aware and responsible, as is demonstrated when he insists Tom explain to him the practicalities of safe sex, while the scenes of his courtship of Sophie, winning her over with his cool dance moves, sense of humour and genuine feelings, are beautifully played by both of them.

All the cast though get their moments in the spotlight.  While Tom is sorting out that illicit meeting with the help of his hotel receptionist girlfriend Clare (Karen Murphy), the rest of the group go wandering off, expressing their desire for independence.   Matthew (Paul Connolly) is introduced by his grumpy best mate William (Frank Butcher) to the joys of a pint or several in the pub; Andrew (Patrick Becker) and Alice (Valerie Egan) have adventures in a shopping mall; while Sandy (Emer Macken) stays in the cinema flirting with the one she fancies, the inhibited Peter (Michael Hayes), hoping to get a snog out of him.

The film does have a message – the fact that these people, are not children but adults, with adult feelings and wishes that they have a right to express.  And it raises the question of where do you find the balance between the need to protect them while giving them the respect as adult human beings that they deserve?   But it tells its story in a totally entertaining and absorbing way.   It’s also very funny a lot of time.  Once really feels for Tom, trying to keep track of his charges, whose desire to do their own thing is putting his job in jeopardy.  It is also charming, thought provoking, very touching at times and full of unexpected incident.   Like Tom, you never know what the members of this group are going to get up to next.

“Sanctuary” has been widely seen and praised in Ireland and at film festivals throughout the world. In the UK it is on limited release from 29th December, with its premiere run in Manchester and other towns in the north, though further screenings will be held elsewhere depending on demand.   It is well worth seeking out.   Up to date details can be found here.