Starring: Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle
Director: Alan Parker
FRANK McCourt’s autobiography Angela’s Ashes dominated the bestseller lists around the world and won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize.
People from a variety of backgrounds and faiths were moved by the humour and humanity of McCourt’s memoir of the “worst of all childhoods, a miserable Irish Catholic childhood”. Given the success of the book, this film is assured of having an eager audience.
Angela’s Ashes tells the story of 12 years in the life of the McCourt family. They face the death of children, a move back to their native Ireland from New York, unemployment, terrible impoverishment, death of friends and family, religious oppression, a marriage breakdown and the hope of a brighter future.
This film is faithful to the story and visually captures the mood of the book. It does not, however, conflate or reconfigure McCourt’s work. Lovers of the book should like the film.
The large cast gives memorable performances. Robert Carlyle as Dad and Emily Watson as Angela evoke empathy for the poverty trap of which they are victim. Ronnie Masterson’s Grandma Sheehan is magnificent and Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle in the Father Ted TV series) gives a suitably complex portrayal of Aunt Aggie. But it is to the three Franks that the highest honours go. Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge play Frank from four to 18. The work of these young actors is utterly convincing.
The terrible theology and brutal Church practice in the book is in the film as well. It challenges us, however, in regard to how we think about God’s will, how some types of religious expression can oppress rather than set free and how the right words or actions at the right time from the most unlikely people (Aunt Aggie and Fr Gory) can change our lives for good.
This film will give those of us who rejoice in the changes at Vatican II a chance to see where we have come from and why we are grateful to God that we are here.