Panti Bliss may seem like an unusual choice for the spokesperson for the equality movement. A prominent drag queen entertainer, she found herself thrust into a different sort of spotlight when an interview with the national broadcaster of Ireland became the centre of a political storm. This documentary looks at the life of Panti Bliss, and follows her in the days leading up to the Irish referendum on marriage equality.
Queen of Ireland packs an awful lot into its run time. A potted history of the LGTBI movement in Ireland, a discussion of the psychology of drag and its place in modern theatre (and society more general), and a political debate on marriage equality and gay rights – all hung around the personal, professional and political life of one Rory O’Neill (better known to the world by the persona of Panti Bliss). It’s a great amount of responsibility to place around the neck of one “giant cartoon woman”, as Panti describes herself, but one she doesn’t seem to flinch from for a minute.
It is that central character that grants this documentary such a nimbleness in topic, allowing it to carry out such diverse conversations. Panti is forthright, scathing, amusing, charismatic and fierce. Rory views her as a jester, but imbued with the same rights and responsibilities as that medieval court functionary. Hence Panti makes people laugh, but she can also cut to the quick and tell people the truth of a matter, no matter how powerful you may think you are or how unpleasant it may be for some to hear. Not that this is without consequence, as the famous Pantigate incident with RTE proves, but it is as she views it a position of unique privilege.
As much as the utterances of Panti give this film lightness and character, it is often the more reserved (and that is comparative) conversation with Rory that give this film heft. Through it we get a voice to “the voice” of the marriage equality movement. All shown through interviews, stage clips, and footage of the O’Neill family. It is a personal insight, at times heartbreaking, at others liberating. By this we see the shaping of Panti both as entertainer and political activist.
An immensely topical film for Australia at the moment, as we wrestle with a similar political debate. Queen of Ireland gives us a great insight into the issue, the effects it has on many lives, and one person’s struggle to change things for the better.