Film Review: Angela's Ashes (1999)

in Movies & TV Shows2 months ago


(NOTE: Capsule version of the review is available here.)

Today’s Ireland, even with Celtic Tiger becoming a thing of the past, looks like a promised land to the poor people of Eastern and Southern Europe. It was quite different thing nearly century ago when Ireland, despite winning its independence from the British, remained one of the poorest countries in Europe. At least this is the impression you might get from Angela’s Ashes, 1999 period drama based on the eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir by Irish writer Frank McCourt.

The plot begins in 1930s America during Great Depression. Irish immigrant Malachy McCourt Sr. (played by Robert Carlyle) is convinced that can’t find job so he takes his wife Angela (played by Emily Watson), 6-year old son Frank (played by Joe Breen) and five other children back to his native Ireland. Malachy used to be fight in IRA during Anglo-Irish War and hopes that he would get at least some benefits for his patriotic service. This proves to be an illusion. Because of his Northern Irish accent, Malachy is often mistaken for Protestant and nobody wants to give him job. As a result, McCourts live in destitution, being forced to beg for a living. Next ten years Frank sees how his siblings die, his father spends all his money on drinking and his mother sacrifices last ounces of her self-respect merely to bring few crumbs of bread on the table.

McCourt’s depiction of 1930s and 1940s Ireland was very dark, showing country that despite its nominal freedom is still burdened with institutional chauvinism, hypocrisy of Catholic Church and new state’s nearly complete disregard for the welfare of its citizens. McCourt was actually accused by many for making his and his family’s suffering in those years worse than it really was for the sake of melodrama. Whatever the truth may be, the story attracted the attention of British director Alan Parker, known for his tendency to explore various dark themes in brutal, uncompromising and often unpleasantly naturalistic way. Here Parker stayed away from his tendency to create this effect through rapid MTV-style editing. The plot, narrated by Andrew Bennett, flows much slower and Parker uses opportunity to reconstruct poor neighbourhoods of 1930s Ireland. Cinematography by Michael Sarasin, which uses many blue overtones, adds much to the depressive atmosphere. Parker wisely decides to temper general bleakness of the film with occasional introduction of some humour.

Angela’s Ashes benefits a lot from a very good cast. British actress Emily Watson, who became a star thanks to Breaking the Waves, plays another role of long-suffering wife, but her character is here much different. The role of Angela requires playing someone who goes through losing children, husband and her own self-respect through many years and this performance is both more and less demanding than in Von Trier’s film; Lloyd passes that test with flying colours. Robert Carlyle, who was at the time subscribed to playing psychopathic villains, is somewhat less effective in the role of alcoholic. Among three actors playing Frank at various ages the youngest Joe Breen is the best, while Michael Legge, who plays teenage Frank, is least impressive. The ending is affected by too much sentimentality, but general impression of Angela’s Ashes is more than positive. Although two and half hours of human suffering would hardly represent audience’s idea of entertainment, this film will leave strong impression on those who watch it.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

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Oh god this film... I think It was the most purely devastating and depressive film I have ever watched, and I loved every minute of it, its a bloody masterpiece even if it doesn't adapt the whole book into it...

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