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Graham Saunders (Lancaster University, UK)
‘Reclaiming Sam for Ireland’: The Beckett on Film Project and National Identity

‘Tears and laughter, they are so much Gaelic to me.’ ( Samuel Beckett. The Unnamable )

‘Samuel Beckett is an Irishman but not an Irish writer (Vivian Mercier )

The declared aims of Michael Colgan and Alan Moloney, producers of the 2001 Beckett on Film Project was their hope that the canon of nineteen plays would ultimately become more familiar to a globalized audience. While mass dissemination of Beckett into a popular playwright were amongst its chief aims, the project’s other less stated intention was to wrest Beckett from his reputation as being primarily thought of as a French / European writer and transform him into a representative cultural figurehead for Irish nationhood; one who was both contemporary, and yet could also make claims for a universality in the same way that English / British culture appropriates Shakespeare

Drawing on the film project’s theatrical origins at the 1991 Dublin Beckett Festival, where the Gate Theatre also staged his entire canon of plays, the paper will look at both the explicit and implicit choices that Beckett on Film employed in order to conceptually render Beckett into an Irish playwright.

An odd paradox exists within the film series, in that it simultaneously attempted to fashion itself as a cultural project both central to an Irish sensibility, yet at the same time promote itself to a global market by drawing on an internationally recognized cast of actors and directors. Moreover, the project also enjoyed financial backing from Ireland’s national media network ( RTE ) and Blue Angel Films who were also involved in the global success of Riverdance - an event that also promulgated a constructed sense of ‘Irishness’ to a worldwide audience. The paper will attempt to argue that this situation is not so paradoxical as it first appears, in that it demonstrates the twin aims of the film series - namely to first establish a distinctive 'Irish sensibility' to the drama and then make claims for its universal status.

The paper will also attempt to assess the success or otherwise of an endeavor that attempts to locate Beckett as a a literary representative of Ireland in the light of the writer’s often contradictory responses to the country of his birth. The paper will also summarize and attempt an assessment of Beckett’s own reputation and importance within the Irish dramatic tradition. The paper will also look at the implications of transforming Beckett into another branch of the ‘cultural industry’ in Ireland

As well as primary research, the paper will draw on hitherto unpublished interview material conducted with many of the key participants involved in Beckett on Film. This material has been made available by the journalist and author Aleks Sierz through his involvement in writing and producing the Beckett on Film Website ( www.channel4.com/ culture ), and the booklet that accompanied the series.

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