Hollywood Comes to Irishtown

January 12, 2012

Anyone wandering around Bath Street on January 7th would be forgiven for thinking they were in the twilight zone. As pretty, young things tottered around in 19th century garb, posters had appeared, overnight, warning about the danger of cholera. While the street lamps, long an electronic eye sore had returned to traditional, pretty- if hazardous, gas variety. A closer look betrayed the Hollywood origins of this tale as large white vans belched wires out onto the street, elephantine lights merged with the rising sun to emit a blinding glare while an unseemly amount of workers in high vis and parka jackets ran about barking orders into walkie talkies, setting up the days shoot.

Ten years in the making Albert Nobbs, the pet project of the Machiavellian Pattie Hewes herself, Glenn Close, had finally got under way. Based on a short story written by in 1802 by George Moore, it was adapted for the stage in 1982 starring Close, who bought the rights at the end of the century, before finally beginning shooting this past December with a screenplay by Booker Prize winning author John Banville.With Soprano’s and Six Feet Under director Rodrigo García helming, the constant delays has meant original stars Orlando Bloom and Amanda Seygfried had to bow out to be replaced by up and comers Mia Wasikowska(Alice in Wonderland) and Aaron Johnson(Kick Ass). Homegrown talent Brendon Gleeson, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Maria Doyle Kennedy round out a cast which includes two  Academy Award Winners (Pauline Collins and Brenda Fricker) and one nominee(Janet McTeer ).

Set in Dublin in the 1890s in a hotel called Morrisons, it’s about Albert Nobbs-actually a woman but who dressed as a man to work as a butler to survive in male-dominated 19th-century Ireland. A 1982 review in the New York Times praised Glenn’s performance in the stage play, saying that her transformation to Nobbs was more than just aesthetic, but affected her ‘manner, movement and sensibility”. Observing her on set NewsFour can confirm that, almost thirty years later, Close is still completely convincing as the boy about town.

So how did Bath Street wind up in the movies? There were a lot of exterior street scenes in Nobbs” says location manager Peter Conway. “But trying to find suitable streets set in 1890 is incredibly different. When you look at books of then and now you realise how completely different Dublin has become”. They relocated many of the scenes into parks like Glasnevin Cemetery, the courtyard in Dublin Castle, places that had period feature they could use that weren’t in public down time streets. “When you stand in any street in Dublin it’s full of modern street furniture or lighting, stuff that needs to be removed or covered. Which can be quite expensive.” The scene on Bath Street is one of the few to survive.

“In the story Albert has this dream of opening up a tobacconist shop” says Conway. “So we spent some time investing in small units that might be empty and that lent themself to the period. We found premises on Bath Street. The art department dressed the interior, we put a new front on it and we had to paint the pub on the side, dressing the alleyway with a lot of different things.”

Locals may recognise the shop as Larry Skinner’s old grocery shop which he ran for over fifty years, starting out as a mere worker before owning the shop outright himself. A jovial sort he always wore a white coat, with a pencil behind his ear to tot up the bill,  which was normally written on the tissue paper that most of his products were wrapped in(though he gave so much on tic it’s a wonder he made a living at all).

He had the Richardson girls, who lived in George Reynolds flats, working for him for most of his time in Bath Street. The eldest girl May Richardson came to him first before her younger sister’s Anna and Valerie came along when May married.  Larry closed the shop in 2000 as the bigger supermarkets squeezed him out of the market and the corner shop became a thing of the past.

Larry Skinner is now 86 years old and lives in Artane, his father passed away in recent years and he went back to live in the family home.  He took care of his disabled brother Seamus all his life. Sadly Seamus passed away some three years ago now. He misses him greatly.

When asked by local lady Margaret Humphries Dunne what his secret for staying so agile was he replied “stay young, think young and laugh as much as you can.”


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