Waking Ned Devine Is A Charming Movie About, Uh, Faking Death

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People really seem to love making movies that mess around with the dead. You’ve got movies like Weekend at Bernie‘s (which even got a sequel) that saw its main characters make a dead guy look like he’s alive. While Waking Ned Devine isn’t that morbidly comedic, it still has to do with pretending a man who is deceased isn’t actually, you know, cold dead at this point. But it’s at least slightly irreverent than that.

Basically, the story of 1998’s Waking Ned Devine (just Waking Ned in Ireland) involves the small Irish town of Tullymore. (That means the movie has an all-Irish cast.) The titular Ned Devine is a really old man who won the Irish national lotto and died from the shock. The movie’s two protagonists, Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan, discover Ned’s dead body still sitting in front of the TV. Jackie has a dream that Ned would want them to collect the winnings and share them with their friends in the village, so off they go to impersonate Ned and claim the money from the lotto people, getting the whole town in on the act. Here’s the trailer:

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The villagers of Tullymore really go out of their way to make sure the lotto inspector believes Ned is alive, even pretending Ned’s funeral is a service for Michael O’Sullivan. Once the claim is confirmed, all the villagers share the wealth, except for the village buzzkill, Lizzy Quinn, who tries to call the lottery office and report the fraud, because she wasn’t really paid the amount she wanted (10% of the 7 million Irish pound reward). Some things happen, however, and a freak accident causes an oncoming car to crash into the phone box Quinn is inside, forcing it off a nearby (yet somehow pretty convenient) cliff. (This movie is really not afraid of death and talking about it.)

However, it’s all good as Ned Devine’s death is framed as a generous and serendipitous gift to the village. It turns out that Ned does actually have a son, from one of the village’s young women (how they got to that, we’ll never know, and we probably don’t want to know), that makes him entitled to the entire lotto winnings. However, the mother would much rather give the winnings away to the entire village so that they could all prosper.

Despite the morbid nature of Waking Ned Devine‘s story, it’s actually a charming little comedy that is more innocent than it looks. From 1998, it’s one of those quaint little Irish and British films that usually pop up from the United Kingdom every now and then, and they still do, just with a more modern sheen.

You see, this movie is really just an examination of human nature, and what humans will expectedly do in an opportunity like this.

We like the way writer and director Kirk Jones puts in hurdle after hurdle just to show how actual, real human beings will get over (or around them). And when they do, by God is it funny. It’s also a pleasure to meet the characters and the actors through the movie and see how jovial they can be, even when (or especially when) they’re trying to fool a guy from the city.

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The good thing about Waking Ned Devine is that it’s all warm and jovial, especially by the end, and surprisingly with the way the whole village works to fool Mr. Lotto Guy, but it never strays too much into sappy sentimentality. That kind of thing will turn a lot of people off if left unchecked, and Kirk Jones makes sure that it doesn’t go that far. And, again, he makes sure people keep laughing, but not in a way that can be deemed insensitive like the folks in the aforementioned Weekend At Bernie’s do.

Waking Ned Devine is carried by veteran British actor David Kelly, who plays the role of Michael O’Sullivan. American and other Western audiences will probably not have heard of Kelly, who unfortunately passed away back in 2012, but if you go watch this movie, then you’ll see why he was just perfect for the role. Kelly, in his advanced age in this film, is hilarious and engaging in his innocent commitment to fraud, and who ever thought that elderly actors couldn’t carry a film completely? (Just to show how good he was, Kelly was way too engaging in the movie, you might even say, because he also goes all-in on riding on a motorcycle completely naked.) Because hey, it’s all just for money that a small Irish village would never get to taste in their lives otherwise, right?

It’s probably that sense of wonder and optimism about a miraculous windfall that’s led so many people to love this movie a lot.

Waking Ned Devine is a little unexpectedly rated well everywhere at the time of its 1998 release, and even afterwards.

And really, how can it not be? The movie is a true definition of a feel-good film, and the cast all play their roles well, in charming performances, in making sure that the comedy doesn’t totally undermine the notions of death too seriously. Waking Ned Devine is an exercise proving that you really can’t beat hardworking wit and humor.

Should you go watch Waking Ned Devine? The answer is a resounding yes. This movie is absolutely worth your time, especially if you’re just looking to go watch a comedy to take your mind off things. You can feel a little jealous that the small town of Tullymore gets to taste millions of pounds before you even will in your whole lifetime, but the way the whole story’s laid out, the way the whole village is shown to us, you can’t help but root for them. And think that hey, maybe they deserve a lotto win more than we do. Or more than most of us do.

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