3 March 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Director Lisa Mulcahy discusses Lies We Tell
05 Oct 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Agnes O'Casey in Lies We Tell
We spoke with director Lisa Mulcahy ahead of the release of her psychological thriller Lies We Tell in Irish cinemas on October 13th.

Lies We Tell had its World Premiere earlier this year at the Galway Film Fleadh, where it played to a packed audience and received numerous awards. Leading actor Agnes O’Casey (The Miracle Club) won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award, and DoP Eleanor Bowman (How To Tell a Secret) received the award for Best Cinematography in an Irish Feature. The film is continuing to travel the festival circuit, as one of three Irish films at this year’s Dinard Film Festival in France.

“The World Premiere at the Fleadh was great, absolutely fabulous. There were some people we knew from our crew and our cast, but there were lots of people that we didn't know. There was a wide range of ages, and the cinema was full. It’s just really great to see your film in a full cinema.”

“The big thing when you haven't seen a film in public before, is you don't know what the audience's reactions are going to be. In moments when there was gasps, or people laughed, it was just so fabulous to experience that.”

The film follows Maud (O’Casey), an orphaned heiress living alone in the isolated manor of Knowl. After becoming the subject of her suspicious Uncle Silas’ guardianship, she must fight for her inheritance and her life. 

O’Casey is joined by an ensemble of Irish actors, including David Wilmot (The Guard, Calvary), Chris Walley (The Young Offenders, 1917), Holly Sturton (Smother), Grainne Keenan (Black Mirror), Mark Doherty (Moone Boy), Kieran Roche (Sound & Colour), and Elaine O'Dwyer (Arracht).

Elisabeth Gooch adapted the screenplay from Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1864 novel Uncle Silas. This is Gooch’s first produced screenplay. The project was developed through Screen Ireland’s POV Scheme, a training scheme with the aim of supporting the development and production of low budget feature films, and enabling distinct Irish female voices in cinema.

“The screenplay is written by Elizabeth Gooch. She came to me with it in 2018 and said ‘Look, there’s this new scheme that's going to happen, where Screen Ireland are going to fund films that are supporting female talent, I'd love to enter this into it. Would you direct it?’.”

“I had met Elizabeth a couple of years previously, and we got on really well. So I read it, and I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely’. I love period drama anyway, and it's a great story. She's a really, really great writer, and it's our first screenplay to be produced. She's gonna do lots more, she's a huge talent.”

Shooting a period piece on a low budget is no simple feat, so Mulcahy and DoP Eleanor Bowman decided early on to make the most of any sources of natural light available to them on location.

“I knew that we would never have a lot of money for lighting, so my sentiment was that we should try to make it beautiful within the challenges that we were going to have in relation to finances. I knew that we could do that, and Eleanor was totally on board.”

“I knew we wanted to do all our interior nights with just candlelight, which is effectively what we did. We occasionally added a battery light in a fireplace to make it appear like fire, but if you've seen the film, you’ll see it's all by candlelight.”

“We shot in a house that would’ve been built at a time when there wasn't electricity. So the two main rooms in the house, the drawing room and the dining room, both face north. We never had to worry about the sun coming into those rooms, which would be a massive thing we wouldn't’ve been able to control the consistency of. So it was a very constant light.”

“If she was reading or drawing, we just set all the action by the window. Which is where they would have been, because that’s where the light was. So we were just recreating what life was like then.”

Mulcahy makes extensive use of Ardgillan Castle in Balbriggan, County Dublin, filming in locations both open and inaccessible to the public. Location manager Colin Farrell (Sunlight, Frank) brought the castle to her attention.

“It was the perfect location, I couldn't believe it. It was the location manager who mentioned it to me. Myself and Ruth Carter, the producer, went out to see it, and as soon as we saw it we said ‘Oh my God’.”

“We shot in a few rooms that aren't open to the public, like the two bedrooms. But all those downstairs rooms, the dining room, the drying room, the basement, the kitchen, it's all open to the public. It's the most incredible place. The kitchen is virtually the same as it was, and that's almost impossible to find in any location.”

With Lies We Tell being a period piece, costumes are naturally an important component of the production. Working with costume designer Joanne O’Brien, Mulcahy’s choices around costume design clue the audience into the hierarchy of the characters on-screen. O’Brien and Mulcahy do this while operating within the restrictions of period accuracy, taking into consideration how the societal norms of this time dictate how these characters are allowed to dress.

“At that time, what you wore and what colours you wore were dictated by society. Maud was in mourning, so she would be wearing black for at least a year. Because Silas and his children are close relations to her, they all wear black too. Madame, who isn’t a relation, would wear colours that are deemed half-mourning colours out of respect. So they would be browns or purples. It isn’t until the end you get red in some of the waistcoats.”

“We wanted to be very accurate about what Maud would wear and what colours any of the characters would wear. Joanne just did an incredible job. She had a very limited budget, but she had a very talented team. There’s a little girl at the very end of the film, one of Joanne's team made that dress. They worked miracles with what they had.”

The use of natural light, attention to detail in costuming, and an expansive location frozen in time culminates in a finished product that is authentic to the period the film is exploring.

Mulcahy has a number of upcoming projects following Lies We Tell. She tells me she is finishing her work on season two of The Tourist, having directed two episodes of the Jamie Dornan-led series. She’s also developing her next feature film with producer Michael Garland (Death of a Superhero).

“I’m developing a feature film called Stolen with my husband, who is a producer. It's based on a true story about an Irish woman whose ex took their daughter to Syria after the war had started, and she had to go to Syria to get her daughter back. It’s an incredible story. So that will be my next feature film, and I'm always on the lookout for really great TV drama that I can direct.”

Lies We Tell will be released in Irish cinemas on October 13th, 2023.

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