War of the Buttons (1994 film)

War of the Buttons

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Roberts
Produced by David Puttnam
Screenplay by Colin Welland
Based on La Guerre des boutons
by Louis Pergaud
and War of the Buttons
by Yves Robert
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Bruno de Keyzer
Edited by David Freeman
Enigma Productions
Fujisankei Communications Group
Hugo Films
Les Productions de la Guéville
Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
Running time
94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $12,712[1]

War of the Buttons is a 1994 Irish-French drama adventure film directed by John Roberts. It was written by Colin Welland and based on the French novel La Guerre des boutons, by Louis Pergaud. The story, about two rival boys' gangs in Ireland, the Ballys (working class) and the Carricks (middle class), is set in County Cork, where it was filmed on location.[2]

The film has been classified as a drama and comedy,[3][4] and the tone is frequently light and humorous. It examines issues of conflict and war, the actions and consequences of violence, and how it can divide and oppose people who can be friends as easily as they can be enemies.


In Ireland in the 1960s, more precisely the centre of the bridge over the river that separates the Irish villages of Carrickdowse and Ballydowse, there is a white line that few young people dare cross. The boys of each village spend most of their time trying to upstage the other, whether over the sale of hospital raffle tickets, or something more important, such as deciding who is a "tosspot" and who is not, or, for that matter, defining "tosspot". This War of the Buttons, in which the buttons from the enemies clothes are captured, has gone on as long as the youths can remember, and "to the death", though rarely does either group hurt more than its pride.

The leader of the Ballys is Fergus (Gregg Fitzgerald), the son of a pauper family and an unpromising student who lives in a trailer on the edge of Ballydowse with his mother and abusive stepfather. What Fergus lacks in education, he makes up for in leadership, and the youth of Ballydowse will follow him anywhere. The members of the Ballys include Marie (Eveanna Ryan), the narrator, who revisits her memories of what happened from her adult viewpoint. The leader of the Carricks is Jerome (John Coffey), the son of a wealthy family. He is nicknamed Geronimo after the Apache tribal chief.

The story explores how events escalate, gang class differences (the original and main incentive for their war), Fergus's troubles with his oppressive environment, conflicts that arise when the adults of the villages discover the feud, and conflicts within the Ballys. Their tactics to "win" the war, including a nude ambush of their enemies, are shown in great detail. The groups clash in several battles, the last to conquer the Carricks' "castle". Reilly stays out of the final battle because he doesn't want to get hurt. Geronimo with the help of Reilly then drives the tractor into the Bally base, an old barn, which they destroy completely. This puts a bitter end to the War of the Buttons.

Fergus is blamed for the destruction by the town people and its authorities, and is disowned by his family. He runs off to the mountains, where Geronimo follows him in an unspoken gesture of solidarity. After being captured, the two boys are put in the church orphanage, where they put aside their differences and become best friends. Marie narrates the coda, expressing that she married one of the boys, and that the other became the couple's closest friend, but she does not reveal whom she chose to wed.


The film's story is based on the novel La Guerre des boutons (fr), written by Louis Pergaud and published in 1912. Pergaud's popular book has been reprinted more than 30 times. It has been adapted as film for the first time in the French productions La Guerre des gosses (1936) (fr) and La Guerre des boutons (War of the Buttons, 1962), the latter a black and white film directed by Yves Robert.[5]

The Irish screenplay was written by Colin Welland and the movie was directed by John Roberts. The producer David Puttnam and Welland had worked earlier on the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire. This was their second film together.

During the same week in September 2011, two new French film adaptations of the novel were released: one by the same name (fr) directed by Yann Samuell, set in the 1960s with the Algerian War as backdrop, and La nouvelle guerre des boutons, directed by Christophe Barratier and set during World War II in Occupied France.[5]


  1. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=warofthebuttons.htm
  2. The Irish Filmography 1896–1996; Red Mountain Press (Dublin); 1996. Page 209
  3. War of the Buttons (1994), Mojo Movies
  4. War of the Buttons at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. 1 2 Tobias Grey, "Waging War(s) of the Buttons in France", Wall Street Journal, 15 September 2011, accessed 2 November 2012
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