Carla’s Song – Ken Loach’s very political 1996 film is also a beautifully rendered, old-fashioned love story that has Glasgow bus driver George (Carlyle) pursuing a young, deeply troubled Nicaraguan dancer across the globe and into the hell of a civil war. The most difficult thing about watching this movie is the language. The Spanish spoken for long passages in the second half of the film is not subtitled (I’m guessing to give the viewer the same experience as George, who does not speak the language). Carlyle’s Glaswegian dialect, particularly at the very beginning of the film is also difficult for American ears to decipher, but it gets much easier to understand after the first 20 minutes or so. Even without understanding every word, it’s easy enough to get the gist of the movie through the acting of the two leads.
Face – I had a hard time deciding whether to include Antonia Bird's little 1997 crime drama in my Valentine’s Day list, but I decided to include it because it is fundamentally a story driven by love and redemption. Carlyle plays Ray, a former political activist-turned armed robber. He’s come to a place in his life at 35, when this life of crime is beginning to weigh on him, and his girlfriend Connie (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones’ evil Cersei—talk about your evil queens!) is fed up with his profession. Ultimately it is her love (and a big wake-up call) that redeems Ray. Great ‘90s soundtrack as well!
Marylin Hotchkiss Ballroom Dance and Charm School – This 2005 independent film is a slightly surreal fairy tale all on its own. A story of loss, random chance and the possibilities of new-found love, Marylin Hotchkiss is an unabashedly romantic fable. Carlyle plays Frank Keane, a bread baker in mourning for his wife Rita, a victim of suicide. As Frank tells a stranger whose serious car accident he witnesses, he is “drifting in an endless ocean” of loss and loneliness. But this chance encounter with the accident victim leads Frank to a dance class, where he meets Meredith (Marisa Tomei) and finally finds his way back on the path towards living again. It’s a sweet and charming movie, and Carlyle is wonderful as the gentle, grief-stricken Frank.
Mighty Celt – Also released in 2005, Might Celt is a boy-and-his-dog story at its heart, but underlying the film is the love story between “O,” a former IRA fighter, returning after 10 years in exile to Belfast and his former significant other Kate (Gillian Anderson). Reunited after years, the two reticent former lovers slowly, slowly the two find a way past the pain of the war and estrangement.