15 Things You Might Not Have Realised About The 1991 Film The Commitments
A musical based comedy-drama from the legendary late English filmmaker Alan Parker, The Commitments tells the story of a young Irish music fan called Jimmy who forms a working-class soul band.
Below are 15 things that you might not have realised about a wonderfully uplifting film that is now nearly three decades old!
15. It’s based on a novel that no one would publish
The Commitments is based on the 1987 novel of the same name by the Irish author Roddy Doyle, whose books The Snapper and The Van were also adapted into films.
Doyle, who wrote the first draft of the film’s screenplay, was also awarded the Booker Prize for his 1993 novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
Despite Doyle now being an accomplished and beloved author with a level of prestige and success, getting his first novel The Commitments published in 1987 was no easy feat.
Doyle wrote the story during a summer holiday and couldn’t find a literary agent, or get any traditional publishing house to take on the project.
In the end, he was forced to take out a loan from the bank, and self-publish a run of 4,000 copies.
The Commitments received frosty reviews from prominent publications like Hot Press, but interest in it was renewed when Elvis Costello expressed his love for the book.
14. Over 3,000 Dublin musicians auditioned for the film
The audition process for The Commitments has been likened a kind of early X-Factor, since it attracted aspiring musicians from all over Dublin.
The lines outside the audition buildings were around 3,000-people long, and included performers of all ages and styles.
The aspiring cast members were given the chance to play their instruments before they even read a single line of the script, and were chosen mostly on their personality and musical skill.
The casting was headed by husband and wife duo Ros and John Hubbard, and Alan Parker personally listened to each recording and gave his opinion.
The process took a long time, but resulted in a true cross-section of the Dublin music scene in the early 90s.
Of course, the resulting cast knew a lot about music but very little about acting, something that would only enhance the film’s realism.
13. The band’s lead singer only auditioned for the film by chance
Though thousands of musicians auditioned for the film, the person who ended up in the lead role never meant to audition at all.
The starring role of Deco Cuffe went to Andrew Strong, who had absolutely no plans to be involved with the project.
Instead, he was on set a lot thanks to his father working as a vocal coach on the production, and he was eventually encouraged to audition.
The then-16-year-old sang a rendition of Mustang Sally so perfect that the director himself became convinced that Strong was perfect for the role.
Parker later said of the impromptu audition that “this 16-year-old started to sing [and] our mouths just dropped. To see this voice coming out of this kid was amazing.”
Playing a rock star isn’t a bad way to start your career, especially if you’re a teenager who didn’t even mean to stumble into their big break!
12. The film’s first rehearsal was a disaster
While the cast are all on record as having a great time while filming The Commitments, it didn’t all go smoothly.
As can be expected from a project where 90% of the cast had never acted before, there were some significant bumps in the road to iron out first.
Specifically, the first day on set was apparently a total write-off, with no one understanding exactly what they were supposed to be doing or how to do it.
It was only by the second day of rehearsals that everyone was calm and confident enough to feel comfortable, and they soon bonded from there.
As Maria Doyle, who played Natalie Murphy, explained to the New York Times: “We all started off with some trepidation. We didn’t really know what was going to happen. The very first day we had a reading, we all went, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going on here?'”
She went on to say “Then the next day we started rehearsing, and it was just brilliant. Everybody was at exactly the same level, because just about nobody had ever done a movie before. Once we started playing, it was a real instant bond.”
11. Only one member of the cast wasn’t playing their instrument for real
Director Alan Parker made one exception to his own rule that all of the actors in The Commitments should be genuine musicians when he failed to land a legendary Irish singer.
After Parker’s plan to cast a popular singer and musician in the role of trumpet player Joey Fagan failed (more on that in a moment), he instead hired stage actor Johnny Murphy, who couldn’t actually play any instrument.
Casting one actor who had stage acting experience and wasn’t just a musician turned out to be a more perfect plan than anyone could have bargained for.
This is because Murphy acted as a guiding light to the rest of the cast, giving them acting tips and encouraging them.
Glen Hansard, who played Outspan Foster, said: “Johnny was the elder statesmen among us. Johnny would come to us… he was very good at giving us a few tips. He was a great man to stand next to.”
Ken McCluskey, who played Derek Scully, said: “He’d offer advice. In the movie he plays Joey the Lips, the band’s guiding light. Behind the scenes he was very much that same person.”
10. Alan Parker originally wanted Van Morrison or Bob Hoskins to play Joey the Lips
If it seems odd that Johnny Murphy, who plays Joey the Lips, is the only member of the cast to be an actor rather than a musician, then that’s because this wasn’t the original plan at all.
Murphy was never actually supposed to end up with the part, as famous musician Van Morrison was supposed to end up in the role.
Parker thought Morrison was perfect for the role both due to his musical experience and his effortlessly cool persona, but also because of his birthplace.
Morrison grew up in Pottinger, in Belfast, so he was deeply connected to the Northern Irish music scene, making him a good choice for the part.
However, Parker wasn’t completely committed to only having a musician in the role, as when Morrison was unable to play the part, actor Bob Hoskins was also considered.
So even though Parker was adamant about wanting all professional actors in the main roles, he seemed to be willing to bend the rules for the character of Fagan.
9. The F-word is used in the film an average one-and-a-half times per minute
In many ways, The Commitments is a family-friendly movie, completely devoid as it is of any kind of sexual content and with any violence being minimal.
However, when the movie was released it was given a 15 rating, thanks mostly to the copious amount of cursing.
All in all, the movie contains around 145 instances of the F-word (and a large variety of other curse words as well).
Given that The Commitments is 118 minutes long, that works out at roughly one and a half F-words per minute.
Director Alan Parker insisted that the script did not originally contain that many curse words, and it was never his intention to create such a sweary film.
However, most of the cast were not professional actors and were excited to be hanging out together and working on the film; that combination led to more realistic and curse-filled dialogue.
8. The pony in a lift scene was based on a real-life incident
The Commitments is a pretty grounded film, but it does contain one famously outlandish scene.
Ironically, it is this surreal sequence that was actually inspired by real life, and is the only part closely modelled on real events.
The scene in question is one where a character tries to get his horse into the lift, and is told that’s not allowed.
The hilarious reply “I have to. The stairs’ll kill him” became one of the film’s most iconic moments, and an ultra quotable line.
The scene was actually based on an experience screenwriters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement had when they were scouting locations.
They were looking at a potential block of flats when they spotted a pony hanging out on the balcony a few floors up, and they couldn’t help but wonder how it got there.
7. Director Alan Parker cameos in the film as ‘Eejit Record Producer’
Over the course of his career, Alan Parker directed many movies that sounded like they would be a blast to work on, from Pink Floyd’s The Wall to Bugsy Malone.
However, the late filmmaker was very clear about the fact that his favourite projects to work on were Fame and The Commitments, and The Commitments most of all.
The reason why these projects were Parker’s favourites are easy to identify: they involved music, and they involved working with young performers.
Both these elements were much treasured by Parker, and apparently made the sets of those films a fun place to be.
The Commitments features a reference to Fame, with one of the characters at one point sarcastically singing the movie’s title song.
Not only that, but Parker’s enthusiasm while making The Commitments movie also resulted in a director’s cameo. He appears as an insufferable music producer towards the end of the movie, and is credited as ‘Eejit Record Producer’.
6. It spawned not one but two best-selling soundtrack albums
A Commitments soundtrack album containing 14 songs, most of which featured in the film, was released in 1991 to great commercial success, spending 76 weeks in the US Billboard Chart.
This meant that a second soundtrack album, which featured another four songs from the film as well as seven performed by the cast, was released a year later.
The first soundtrack featured covers of soul classics that were seen in the movie, such as Mustang Sally, Take Me to the River, and The Dark End of the Street.
The second soundtrack, The Commitments Vol. 2, featured Hard To Handle and Too Many Fish in the Sea.
Though both were a commercial success, the latter received slightly lower critical ratings overall, and didn’t chart as well.
Still, both are together considered a great entry point into soul and blues music, and are a great way to hear the cast stretch their skills.
5. Armed robbers once stopped a burglary to congratulate the cast on their work in the movie
The Commitments is one of Ireland’s most beloved movies, but it might surprise you just how deep love of the film runs in the country.
For example, being a fan of a film is one thing, but stopping in the middle of an armed robbery to tell someone how much you loved the film is another.
It sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what happened to Johnny Murphy, who played Joey the Lips Fagan in the film.
Murphy was walking from the pub back to the theatre where he was currently based when he saw the nearby post office being robbed.
Murphy froze as a gang of people in ski masks ran past, but then one of them recognised him from his work on The Commitments.
As unbelievable as it sounds, the gang allegedly stopped and ran back to Murphy, just to shake his hand and tell him how much they liked the movie.
4. Niamh Kavanagh went on to win the Eurovision song contest
Niamh Kavanagh was fairly unknown when she landed the job as a lead singer on the soundtrack for The Commitments.
She did however have a powerful voice, which she lent to classics like Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and Destination Anywhere.
Despite the Commitments soundtrack being a smash hit, Kavanagh returned to normal life pretty quickly, and even got a day job at a bank.
It turned out that she shouldn’t have bothered, as she was soon widely renowned for her impressive vocal skills.
The movie soundtrack acted as a springboard for Kavanagh to enter the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland, which she won.
The win was Ireland’s second in a row, and guaranteed Kavanagh a life-long career as a songstress and Irish national treasure.
3. Glen Hansard says the film ruined his music career
Most of the cast of The Commitments have been very open about having a great time on set, but there is one particular exception.
Glen Hansard, who plays Outspan Foster in the movie, unfortunately didn’t have a pleasant experience like so many of his castmates.
The story goes that Hansard clashed with director Alan Parker early on in production, and the two never really learned to get along.
As a result, their relationship was always strained on set, resulting in a much less fun environment for Hansard than for everybody else.
In the years since the movie, Hansard has even gone so far as to imply that the movie affected his music career for over a decade.
Being asked about The Commitments in an interview, Hansard said: “I don’t regret doing it. It was brilliant. I just regretted having to talk about it forever. It overshadowed my own band. I spent the next 10 years in interviews talking about The Commitments and not talking about the band that I was in.”
2. A proposed sequel would have reunited the band in New York City
Many fans of the movie are not aware of it, but the book of The Commitments actually has two sequels: The Snapper and The Van.
The three books combine to make The Barrytown Trilogy, a set of loosely connected books following the Rabbitte family, with James “Jimmy” Rabbitte, Jr being the eldest son and protagonist of The Commitments.
All three books have been adapted into movies, so in a way The Commitments has two filmed sequels.
However, these books movies follow the family of Jimmy as they go on their separate adventures, rather than following what became of the Dublin blues scene and the band members.
Studios were eager to create a more direct sequel to The Commitments, in which the band members would reunite in New York and try to make it big.
However, it was not to be – the movie never made it past the development stage, and the latest book in the saga reveals that Jimmy never left Dublin, while the band never got back together either.
1. Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with the movie
The Commitments is a movie that’s beloved to lots of people, but it has one notable fan in particular.
Quentin Tarantino apparently loved the movie, enjoying it so much he decided to cast one of the stars in one of his own films.
Tarantino was particularly enamoured with the performance of Bronagh Gallagher, who plays Bernie in The Commitments.
Tarantino got in touch with Gallagher personally and invited her to play a character in his 1994 classic, Pulp Fiction.
Unfortunately for Gallagher, she ended up playing the character of Trudi, who gets to witness the film’s somewhat gory needle scene!