Brooklyn, 1935. Five-year-old Frank McCourt looks on as his mother gives birth to a baby daughter. When the child dies soon after, Angela (Emily Watson) has a breakdown, while her husband Malachy (Robert Carlyle) prefers to mourn at the local bar.
When her mother sends money for passage back to Limerick, the family emigrate. The elder Frank (Ciaran Owens) grows up in desperate poverty with his father wasting the family’s meagre budget on alcohol and his mother forced to subsist on charity. When his twin brothers die from exposure, Frank vows to survive, working his way through school to his first job.
The advent of World War II sees Malachy leave for England, abandoning his family. As their situation worsens, Angela is forced to plead with her relatives to provide shelter. But as Frank soon discovers, kindness always comes at a price…
Despite an opening sequence of Chris Morris-style overload – infant death, septic tank poverty – Angela’s Ashes soon finds its feet. Alan Parker is no stranger to heroes fuelled by determination, although the celluloid Frank seems one-dimensional compared to Birdy or Harry Angel.
The director has lost little of his talent for filming children, devoting substantial screen time to Frank’s formal education and giving the film its strongest moments, with humour and pathos to balance the bleak reality of life outside academia.
Performances are excellent, with Watson and Carlyle achieving a lot in essentially reactive roles (compare her performance with that of Punch-Drunk Love, and you see a very versatile actress), and Joe Breen making a striking screen presence.
Michael Seresin’s photography adds more depth, with the rain-swept, decrepit locations evoking a sense not only of Dickensian squalor, but also the same fortitude and perseverance which characterised the Victorian author’s best work.
USA – Ireland | 145 minutes | 1999
Director: Alan Parker
Writers: Alan Parker, Laura Jones (from the novel by Frank McCourt)
Emily Watson as Angela McCourt
Robert Carlyle as Malachy McCourt
Joe Breen as Young Frank
Michael Legge as Older Frank
Ciaran Owens as Middle Frank
J.J. Murphy as St. Vincent Man #2
Johnny Murphy as Seamus
Ronnie Masterson as Grandma Sheehan
Pauline McLynn as Aunt Aggie
Liam Carney as Uncle Pa Keating
Eanna MacLiam as Uncle Pat
Shane Murray-Corcoran as Young Malachy
Devon Murray as Middle Malachy
Peter Halpin as Older Malachy
Frank Laverty as Young Paddy Clohessy
James Mahon as Middle Paddy Clohessy
Laurence Kinlan as Older Paddy Clohessy
Des McAleer as Mr. Benson
Brendan McNamara as Toby Mackey
Maria McDermottroe as Bridey Hannon
Gerard McSorley as Father Gregory
Eamonn Owens as Quasimodo
Phelim Drew as Rent Man
Brendan O’Carroll as Funeral Carriage Driver
Danny O’Carroll as Clarke
Alan Parker as Dr. Campbell
Stephen Marcus as English Agent
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