War of the Buttons is a 1994 movie directed by John Roberts, based on the French novel Les Guerre des Boutons by Louis Pergaud.
Set in Co. Cork in the 1960's, it is the story of two rival towns Ballydowse and Carrickdowse and the young boys (and some girls) who begin a 'war' against each other. Each time a member of one of the gangs is captured their buttons are cut off and kept as trophies.
The Ballys are the good guys of the story. The working class lads. They are led by FERGUS. What a leader this lad is by the way. Tall, strong and a bit older than most of the other boys. Fergus would be the type to do anything for a mate. If ya needed someone to take a girls annoying friend out because said girl won't go unless it's a double date type of thing then FERG would be your man to call. Sound as a pound. A good skin. However, he's only a youn'fella in this and he doesn't have things his own way at home because his Step-Da makes him work hard alongside him on the farm and isn't shy about dishing out the odd whipping.
Then there is BIG CON and his little brother LITTLE CON (who just says 'fuck it' and keeps his thick Dublin accent throughout), BOFFIN who is the brains of this particular operation, TIM, FISHY, PETER, RILEY (Booo, the judas turncoat bastard, ya know there's something off about this lad straight off the proverbial bat), PAT, TICH, MAEVE, HELEN, FIONNUALA and last but not least MARIE.
MARIE opens and closes the film as it's narrator, looking back her childhood. She opens with this..
"In Ireland, I grew up in a tiny village by the sea. It was here that my best friend, a boy, was fighting with another boy, who lived in the next village. It sounds silly but they were always fighting. Typical a' boys (ooooh, cheeky)"
The pipes are playing under it and there's mountains and the little lake and Jasus doesn't it make ya proud to be Irish lads!
The Carricks are the middle class boys. They were proper school uniforms d'ya see? Their leader is GERONIMO aka Jerome. There's a smack of South Dublin off his accent but again we'll live with that. What's great about this character is he isn't a cut 'n' dry villain. He has a bit of honour about him. This man knows the codes. There's a respect for his opposite number Fergus. I like that.
Then there is GORILLA his beefy bully sidekick. Classic bad guy performance here. He's tough and rough against the small lads but he's windy when it's crunch time. There's MICKEY MOON, WILLIE, CHICK, BRENDAN and BERNARD. Although apart from Geronimo and Gorilla the Carrick boys are only bit part players in this.
Plot in a nutshell
The two gangs keep getting one over on each other. The groups clash in several battles, the last to conquer the Carricks' "castle". Reilly (Boooo the Judas bastard, 'wheres your 30 pieces of silver Riley?') stays out of the final battle because he doesn't want to get hurt. Geronimo with the help of Riley then drives a tractor into the Bally base or HQ as it were, an old barn, which they destroy completely. This puts a bitter end to the War of the Buttons.
THEN THE BROWN STUFF REALLY HITS THE WHIRLY THING... WHEN
Fergus is blamed for the destruction by the town people and its authorities, and is disowned by his family. He runs off to the mountains, where Geronimo follows him in an unspoken gesture of solidarity. After being captured, the two boys are put in the church orphanage, where they put aside their differences and become best friends.
Lots of well known Irish Actors pop up in this in small roles. Theres Colm Meaney, Johnny Murphy, Liam Cunningham, Ger Ryan, Jim Bartley and I got a good chuckle when I saw Frank O'Sullivan and Eamon Hunt (both of whom I've worked with) playing Fisherman #1 and 2 respectively in a funny scene near the start of the movie.
BITS 'N' BOBS
One thing I noticed on rewatching the film was that the lads are all trying to sell raffle tickets for Skibbereen Hospital.
Guess who else are from Skibb!!
"What's a Tosspot?"
After Gorilla calls Little Con a 'tosspot' the Bally lads are trying to figure out what it means or more to the point how bad a slag it is. Fergus takes a lolly pop and gives it to little Gerald, a 4 year old kid and gets him to cycle over to the church and call the Priest a tosspot. The chase scene afterwards is gas.
Anyone not know what a tosspot is??
"One for the Road"
When the Ballys go to Carrick in the middle of the night to vandalise the Church board Colm Meaney (Geronimo's Da) comes out of his house and nearly catches them. Fergus has no option but send Little Con out to face him. "You're only a little kid with eggs" and out he goes, taking one for the team. Will he be okay or will be be the sacrificial lamb?
Big Con says blankly "My Brother. They've got him. He's a prisoner of war."
Once inside Little Con sees Geronimo and Gorilla doing their homework at the table. Shocked to silence he gets a few glasses of whiskey from Colm Meaney (to buck him up, what? Nothing wrong with feeding hard booze to a child, it's Ireland in the 60's sure) and it's not long before he gets completely rat-arsed.
I laughed out loud when Geronimo and Gorilla are sent out to get Little Con more eggs and Gorilla says to Colm Meaney "But he's busy, he's doing his lessons Mister!" Little Con comes out of the house and heads up the road singing 'The Rocky Road to Dublin' (Sounds like me most weekends) and Big Con says laughing "Me brother! He's as drunk as a skunk."
The Ballys manage to paint ALL CARRICKS ARE ASSHOLES on the church board. It's a "mortal sin" but Fergus tells Boffin "This is war."
Trapping Gorilla at Murphy's Dunes
"Who rattled your cage Gorilla?"
"What's up? Haven't ya had your bananas yet? Well chew on these and shut your face!"
"Cut off his willy!"
"I'm gonna have to pee sometime..."
When Tim is caught up a tree surrounded by the Carricks they tell him that he's gonna have to come down sometime and he responds with the classic "Gonna have to pee sometime and I know where I'll be aiming!" They all step back, well wouldn't you!?
The Ballys decide to go commando (quite literally) and in another battle, they chase the Carricks away by running at them stark naked! They get to the lake where the girls are waiting to spring the trap on the bridge. The Ballys celebrate until they realise they are in the nip in front of the girls (one of whom puts on her glasses for a closer peak, the dirtbird!) The boys all run apart from Fergus who is obviously happy with what he's got!
The chasing and the subsequent killing of a fox (to sell for money to buy buttons) is a lovely moment in the film. They think it's all fun and games until they see that it was a living thing. Marie sees them and tells them "You pigs! He was beautiful and you killed him for money!" A nice coming of age moment and later on when a small rabbit gets injured in the crossfire both gangs hold a truce to work together to fix it a splint.
The Great Battle of Kinsale
The Master explains about this battle in the classroom and the Ballys use this as inspiration for the final battle with the Carricks at their own 'Bunduff Castle." During the final battle Geronimo is impressed that Fergus comes on a horse. Boffin says to Fergus "For England and Saint George?" to which Fergus replies "Shut up will ya.... For Ballydowse and Ireland!..."
Geronimo surrounded decides to cut his own tie and buttons. He is defeated but maintains his pride. His uniform is hung from a stick and Ballydowse are the victors but Geronimo plans his revenge by getting Riley (Judas!) to help him destroy the Ballys HQ with Riley's Dads new tractor.
After Riley gets caught helping to destroy the Ballys HQ he is stripped of his clothes and buttons. Watch Riley's mad aul' lad lose his shit and threaten the Ballys parents with the solicitor! Riley's poor aul' Ma can't get the jacket on him for love nor money!
Fergus and Geronimo
I always remember the lads looking out for each other on the mountain and the Master standing up to Fergus' Step Dad. As long as the lads had each other in the Boys home they would be ok.
Marie closes the film with the narration
"And so ended the war of the buttons. And what of these brave boys? Well, one became my husband and the others our oldest friend... but I'm not going to tell you which is which!"
Ah come on Marie! She had to marry Fergus right!!?
A special mention has to go to the fact that the weapon of choice in the war was an old school Gat aka a Slingshot which they all were lethal at using! Savage!
The film brought back so many great memories and it really is full of heart, charm and brilliant performances, from the kids especially. It belongs there with Stand by me, The Goonies, Lord of the Flies or any of the great stories about growing up and being (for the most part) in a non-adult world.
I have such fond memories of growing up having 'gangs' and being involved in 'wars' against rival estates, spending summer mornings building bases etc.
A real trip down memory lane and a healthy smack of nostalgia watching this film again. Loved it as a kid. Love it now! Definitely an Irish Movie you must see!