Barry Keoghan: 6 impactful historical roles
marvel’s Eternals Star Barry Keoghan, like Druig, witnessed countless historical events, but through the eyes of the characters he portrayed. From his Irish homeland to the radioactive Ukrainian landscape, he has covered a lot of historical ground throughout his career so far.
With subjects such as war, rebellion, famine and nuclear disaster, Keoghan does not shy away from the darkest chapters of world history. His most impactful roles see him as young men on the cusp of change, whose conflicts often align with that of the viewer. Each performance is delivered with care and respect to resonate with audiences from all walks of life.
The green knight
Despite being a fantasy, 2021 The green knight is adapted from the Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the 14and Century. In it, Keoghan plays a scavenger, a character who helps Dev Patel’s Gawain under false pretenses before pounces and robs him in the woods.
The scavenger takes only a fraction of the A24 adventure but chills audiences to the bone with his uncanny indifference to the likely death of his brothers in battle. While not particularly hard-hitting, the performance helps add a disturbing new dimension to the historical mythos.
The 1916 Easter Rising is the focus of the historical drama series Rebellion, told from the point of view of various fictional characters. Cormac McDevitt of Keoghan joined the Irish Volunteers and served as a guard during the uprising.
Despite the heavy subject matter, overall the miniseries is not as intense as other works in Keoghan’s catalog. However, he brings some intensity to the role with his portrayal of the cheeky but disgruntled young man. Cormac’s light-hearted attitude towards the darkness around him is sometimes uncomfortable, as seen in his first scene of Episode 1 “Young Guns” when he tends to his gun as if it were his “bride”.
Black ’47 takes its name from the most devastating year of Ireland’s Great Famine (1847), in which one million people died and another million fled the country. The plot follows a soldier who abandons his post in the British army to reunite with his family. Although he himself is Irish, Keoghan plays the idealistic English soldier, Private Hobson.
While Hannah (portrayed by Hugo Weaving at her best) and Pope (Freddie Fox) remain calm after finding a murdered man wearing a pig’s head, Keoghan needs no dialogue to convey Hobson’s horror. A short five-second clip shot through a window, showing the soldier with his horse, running his hands through his hair, is a grounded moment. The character brings sensitivity to an otherwise desensitized environment, foreshadowing the fate that awaits him.
Set at the height of the Belfast Troubles, ’71 follows Gary Hook, a British soldier (Jack O’Connell) who is separated from his unit during a riot. Keoghan portrays the misguided Sean, who, like many young Irishmen at this time, seeks purpose in the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
The situations Sean finds himself in expose his character’s complications. This inner conflict reaches its climax in the film’s key scenes, when he hesitates to kill Hook for the second time. Sean falls silent as he is pressured to commit murder, but sheds a single tear that starkly reminds him of his age and corrupt innocence.
Christopher Nolan’s 2017 war epic details the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II and sees Keoghan tackle the role of boat hand George Mills. Although it has few lines – a deliberate stylistic choice by Nolan – it delivers a natural and nuanced performance, capturing the inner conflict of a boy too young to serve but old enough to feel the weight of war.
George’s fate is a stark reminder of the consequences of war that extended beyond the battlefields. Although the story is rooted in death, the tragic and unexpected passing of the young civilian is powerful. Following an accident on the boat, he is later revealed dead by Alex (Harry Styles) in a particularly distressing moment.
HBO’s miniseries about the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was always going to be a tough watch. As the most recent historical event in Keoghan’s catalog, the accident remains a prominent global memory whose consequences are still felt to this day. Keoghan plays Pavel, a young Russian liquidator who volunteers to help clean up. In Chernobyla series full of hard-to-watch moments, he’s tasked with executing one of the darkest.
The liquidators were ordered to shoot the dogs to prevent the spread of radiation. In episode four, we see this reality dramatized on screen when Pavel is told not to “let them suffer”. A conflicted Pavel tries to persuade a dog to flee before he wounds it with a gunshot. Keoghan skillfully captures the moral suasion of these dire circumstances to deliver the most impactful performance in his historic portfolio to date.
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