Based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan and written and directed by Colm Bairéad, The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin) is the touching story of a nine-year-old girl, Cáit (Catherine Clinch), who unexpectedly discovers something she didn’t even know existed: kindness.
Living in rural Ireland in 1981, Cáit, as far as others are concerned, almost doesn’t exist. Her father, known as Da, (Michael Patric) is supposed to be a farmer, but in reality he’s a useless jerk who drinks and gambles away any money he can get his hands on. Cait’s mother, known as Mam, (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) is so overwhelmed trying to keep the family together that she has little time for Cáit. Her older sisters are wild and, at school, are viewed as weird. At school, Cáit herself is considered so insignificant she isn’t even worth picking on. Now Mam is pregnant again. She and her husband decide to farm out Cáit for the summer to make it easier (and less expensive) to make it through the rest of the pregnancy and the birth. The only choice open to them is a distant, childless, cousin of Mam’s who lives on a small dairy farm in County Waterford.
Da drives her to the home of Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and Seán (Andrew Bennett) Cinnsealach. He drops her off and leaves so quickly that he forgets to unload her suitcase. Eibhlín instantly treats Cáit with love and compassion. She bathes her, brushes her hair (100 strokes every time) and teaches her how to help with the housework. Cáit has never been treated so well before, and she hardly knows how to process this new reality. Seán, on the other hand, is initially cool to Cáit. Because Cáit’s wardrobe was left behind, Eibhlín dresses her in what appears to be boys clothes. Then she brings her into town to buy new, more appropriate clothes. In town, Cáit is in for another shock. People, even children her own age, treat her kindly. Back at the dairy farm, Seán also finally takes a liking to Cáit and allows her to help him with the cows. He also encourages her to indulge a talent she seems to have: running fast.
One day, Eibhlín and Seán allow a friend, Úna (Joan Sheehy), to take care of Cáit for a couple hours, and Úna reveals a fact Eibhlín and Seán have never shared with Cáit. The reason they have boys clothes in the house is that they once had a son who drowned in the family’s slurry pit. This revelation brings Cáit, Eibhlín and Seán even closer.
But then Cáit’s parents demand that the Cinnsealachs return Cáit in time for the start of the school year.
If there is one flaw to The Quiet Girl, it is that the villain, Da, is so reprehensible that his character strains credibility. However, this does not detract from the fact that, overall, this is a wonderful film.