Home Features Tony Canavan on an undistinguished film and a forgotten novelist

Tony Canavan on an undistinguished film and a forgotten novelist

A minor Ealing hit and a largely forgotten novelist—Tony Canavan on the post-war production Another Shore and the author Kenneth Sarr

I first came across the film Another Shore one rainy Saturday afternoon many years ago when it was shown on BBC2, and seeing it recently again on a satellite channel reminded that it is based on an Irish novel.

The film is one of a number of post-war British productions set in Ireland, with varying degrees of success. Some, like Captain Boycott, were serious in tone but many, such as Rooney, took a whimsical view of Ireland and the Irish. While they featured Irish actors, the main cast usually consisted of British actors struggling with an Irish accent. This 1948 Ealing film, based on a novel by Kenneth Sarr, was one of the first to delve into this field.

Veers in tone

From the beginning the film veers in tone, as the opening credits initially promise “a comedy” but then change to “a tragedy”. The whimsy is reinforced as an orchestra plays Molly Malone over the credits on a background of shamrocks.

The plot centres on Gulliver Sheils who has left his job with the Revenue Commissioners in hopes of fulfilling a madcap plan.

His idea is to do a good deed for a wealthy eccentric who will then reward him with enough money to settle in Rarotonga in the South Seas. Most of the plot concerns Gulliver’s attempts to find just the right spot where someone, preferably a rich elderly person, can have  a mishap so that he can come to the rescue. A bench in St. Stephen’s Green is abandoned in favour of a spot in Grafton St.

Gulliver doesn’t have much luck in finding a wealthy person in trouble but he encounters various people along the way, which provides the entertainment. Chief among these is a Scottish gentleman, Alastair McNeil, and Jennifer who is intrigued that Gulliver is the first man to ignore her. Inevitably romance ensues between Jennifer and Gulliver, although he will not give up his dream of life in Rarotonga. After various twists and turns, McNeil offers to pay for himself and Gulliver to settle in the South Seas but fate intervenes and Gulliver ends up staying in Dublin.

Minor hit

There are a number of Irish actors playing minor roles, but the cast is headed by Robert Beatty, a Canadian actor who worked mainly in British film and television, playing Gulliver. Alastair McNeil is played by Stanley Holloway, a star of many Ealing comedies in the 1950s. Moira Lister, who plays Jennifer, was born in South Africa and made a career in British cinema. The film was a minor hit in its day but is hardly a classic. It has been described as one of the least distinguished films produced by Ealing during its golden age. 

Like many such films, it is interesting for footage of Dublin in the years after World War II, and it presents an Irish society that is sophisticated and happy-go-lucky in contrast to the popular image of that era today.

Kenneth Sarr

The author behind the novel is probably more interesting. Kenneth Sarr was the penname of Kenneth Sheils Reddin (1895–1967), who was born to J. J. and Annie Reddin. Part of his schooling was at Scoil Éanna, where Thomas McDonagh and Patrick Pearse were formative influences. He joined the Irish Volunteers and was interned after the 1916 Rising

His father’s house was a centre for the Irish literary scene and so Kenneth was acquainted with many writers and artists. He was involved, along with his brothers Kerry and Norman, in the Irish Theatre Company, and went on to study at University College Dublin, becoming a solicitor. The Reddins supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty and their house in Artane was burned during the Irish Civil War. In 1922 Kenneth was appointed a District Court judge based in Mullingar, later moving to Newbridge, and then Dublin.

Parallel to his legal career, he always had an interest in literature. His first play was written in 1920. He was a member of the United Arts Club and President of Irish PEN

Interestingly, he visited James Joyce in Paris several times, and is said to have brought him a gift of Olhausen’s black pudding

During Joyce’s father‘s final illness, he telegraphed Reddin’s brother Dr Kerry Reddin about his treatment.

Largely forgotten

Kenneth brought together his two careers in a book called Laughter in My Court, a collection of humorous anecdotes from his time as a judge. He retired from the bench in 1965, two years before his death. 

As writer he initially chose the pseudonym Kenneth Esser (from Kenneth S. R.) but later shortened this to Kenneth Sarr. He wrote a number of plays, novels and essays. In 1945, he published Another Shore, which appeared in the United States as Young Man With A Dream

Like the film, the novel enjoyed some success but is largely forgotten today. After his death, his papers were obtained by the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. The library has extensive collections relating to the history, literature, culture, and politics of Ireland from the seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century.