Irish director Pat O'Connor is at the helm of this well-done and heart-affecting screen translation by Frank McGuinness of Brian Friel's Tony Award-winning Broadway play. The narrator, an adult Michael, recalls a summer in 1936 when he was nine years old and everything in his life changed. He is the love child of Christina (Catherine McCormack), the youngest of the five unmarried Mundy sisters who live in a rocky farm in Donegal. The eldest is Kate (Meryl Streep), a strict and strait-laced middle-aged teacher at a Catholic school. Maggie (Kathy Burke) is the live-wire of the group while the ever-reliable Agnes (Brid Brennan) looks after the simple-minded Rose (Sophie Thompson) who has a crush on a married man.
Their routinized struggle to keep trouble away from their door is waylaid by the return of Jack (Michael Gambon), their oldest brother, a priest who has spent 25 years as a missionary in Africa. His respect for tribal spirituality is irritating to Kate but she is even more upset when Gerry Evans (Rhys Ifan), Michael's father, shows up only to announce that he's going to join the International Brigade to fight Franco in Spain. Even worse, Kate loses her job and the imminent opening of a woolens factory threatens the family's only other source of income, hand-woven clothing.
Dancing at Lughnasa is a meditative film that lyrically affirms the small acts of love, courage, and kindness that knit a family together in the face of hardship and change. It also presents a totally surprising and exalted moment of grace that arrives on the scene like a shooting star and vanishes as quickly.