Feb 28, 2024

Small Things Like These Becomes First Irish Movie to Open the Berlinale

Adapted from Claire Keegan’s novel, Cillian Murphy’s latest film deals with the story of a Magdalene Laundry in rural Ireland in the 1980s

Sáoirse GoesDeputy Editor
Photo via the Berlin Film Festival

Cillian Murphy’s new film opened the Berlinale on Thursday evening, becoming the first Irish film to open the festival. The opening ceremony marks the beginning of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, Europe’s first major film festival of the year.

Murphy’s new film, Small Things Like These celebrated its world premiere at the Berlinale Palast. The film is based on Claire Keegan’s 2021 novella of the same name, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022.

Murphy, who is also a producer for the film, stars alongside Zara Devlin, Emily Watson, Eileen Walsh and Michelle Fairley. The Cork actor also brought on director Tim Mielants, who was involved in Peaky Blinders, and playwright Enda Walsh, who wrote the script for the project. 


Set in New Ross, Co. Wexford, on Christmas in 1985, the film follows Bill Furlong (Cillian Murphy), as he uncovers unsettling secrets kept by his local convent. Small Things Like These is dedicated “to more than 10,000 young women sent to Magdalene institutions for ‘penance and rehabilitation’ – and the children taken from them”.

Filmed in Wexford, Wicklow and Dublin last year, the film was made in partnership with Artists Equity (AE), Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s production company. The film also received financial backing from Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland and was also produced in collaboration with Murphy’s production partner, Alan Moloney’s Big Things Film.

Murphy and Moloney both expressed their gratitude at the honour of having their film open the festival: “Having an Irish film open the Berlinale is a tribute to the power of storytelling at home, and we can’t wait for audiences to see the film”.

Speaking at the film’s press conference earlier on Thursday, the Oscar and BAFTA-nominated actor explained that Small Things Like These is about  “a Christian man trying to do a Christian act in a dysfunctional Christian society”. Acknowledging the collective trauma of the Magdalene Laundries, Murphy said, “It asks a lot of questions about complicity, silence and shame, but I don’t think it is the duty of art to answer those questions but provoke”.

This is not the first time that Claire Keegan’s work has achieved critical acclaim at the Berlinale. Keegan’s Foster debuted as An Cailín Ciúin/The Quiet Girl at the 2022 iteration of the festival and became the first Irish-language film to be nominated for an Oscar, in the Best International Feature Film category. Small Things Like These has yet to secure an Irish distributor, and its Irish release date has yet to be announced.

The Berlin International Film Festival runs from February 15th – 25th at various locations throughout the city.

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