DERMOT Malone: Debut Feature Film “King Frankie” Review

28 February 2024

Written by

Allan Hunter, Screen Daily

A grieving man must face the ghosts of his past in this promising Irish debut from Dermot Malone.

The Sweetshop

The past lies heavy on the heart in King Frankie, Dermot Malone’s micro-budget debut feature which shows considerable promise as it explores a life burdened by guilt, grief and regret.  An experienced Irish cast should lend some domestic appeal to a polished, nicely executed character study and further festival screenings might follow its world premiere at Dublin. 

 A polished, nicely executed character study.

After extensive experience in commercials, King Frankie is the first feature for Malone and his production company Banjoman, and it is structured around two major life events. In the present day, Frankie Burke (Peter Coonan) pays faithful witness to the rituals that attend his father’s death. Ten years earlier, he is the frantic host of an ostentatious, country hotel birthday party for his daughter’s eighth birthday. The contrast between the two periods lies at the core of the film.

Frankie is a taxi driver, living with his parents. He finds moments of calm in a morning swim illuminated by the steel blue tones of dawn and the twinkling lights of a distant industrial shoreline. A fragile figure, he is subject to panic attacks and clearly struggling with more than the immediate impact of losing his father. At home, photos of a happy wedding and a distant holiday are a shrine to a life that has vanished. The muted colours and measured pace speak of someone diminished by time. 

The film’s sombre tone changes when it bursts into flashbacks. There is a vigour in the fluid camerawork and pacing, reflecting a buoyant, optimistic Frankie. The birthday party is a flashy affair complete with a bouncy castle, chocolate fountain, sky-high cake, exasperated wife Jenny (Olivia Caffrey) and a largely indifferent daughter. Everything is designed to impress. Family and friends are joined by important business contacts, including Fraser (Ruairi O’Connor) who is being wooed to finance a sure-thing deal. There is a whiff of David Mamet in the depiction of the cut-throat business world and Frankie’s desperation to succeed. It seems inevitable that the stuttering Celtic Tiger economic boom is about to deal a blow to Frankie’s schemes.

Malone brings a Shakespearean element to Frankie’s life from his destructive ambition, to a thumb prick of blood foretelling tragedy and a ghostly presence at the feast.

Quick-fire montages seem to burst through time. There is a mirroring effect as the ominous presence of Frankie’s childhood friend Peter (Alan Mahon) at the birthday party is matched by Peter’s son Cathal (Rob Malone) who attends the funeral. Malone adds moments of high emotion through poetry and music as Frankie’s father Aidan (Owen Roe) recites ’Tyger Tyger Burning Bright’, or Frankie and Peter stand together to perform ’The Wild Rover’. 

Malone shows a sure touch with his actors. Coonan makes Frankie a sympathetic figure; all flashing teeth, simmering rage and desperation in the past, he becomes a much more humble figure with age, counting the few blessings he has and cowed by guilt. Roe invests Frankie’s father with warm understanding and concern whilst Caffrey lends a steely edge to a wife worn down by Frankie’s grand designs and refusal to confide in her. 

Events along the way are a little predictable and the party climaxes in overwrought fashion, resorting to slow-motion and soaring opera on the soundtrack. By contrast, the final showdown feels underpowered, eschewing the expected fireworks. In his favour, Malone doesn’t take the obvious route to redemption but finds quiet notes of hope and reconciliation to end Frankie’s story.

Check out the King Frankie trailer here.