Eye For Film >> Movies >> Angela's Ashes (1999) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
For those who never experienced it, poverty has a kind of beauty. Frank McCourt's memoir of his childhood became an international best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize. Now Alan Parker, the man who learnt his craft in advertising and romanticised a Turkish prison in Midnight Express, has brought his soft focus sensibility to the slums of Limerick, circa 1935-49. It looks lovely. Or rather, it looks like a commercial for the land of the free. Young Frank's dream is to sail to America, see the Statue Of Liberty and start a new (better) life. No prize for guessing the final shot of this two-and-a-half hour movie.
Frank's ma - Angela of the ashes - keeps having babies and tragically losing them. Frank's da can't find work, despite being well turned out and physically fit. He drinks, you see, staggers home in a state, falls over the piss bucket on the stairs, sleeps till noon and loses the only job he's offered.
They live in a hovel at the bottom of a lane that resembles a midden. The communal bog is a turd's throw from their door and in winter they decamp upstairs because the front room is flooded. The kids' shoes have holes in them and Ma has to queue with other destitute women outside the priesthouse for leftovers.
McCourt's experience has intimations of Dickensian squalour, except Parker is not a director who finds value in realism. This is entertaining blarney, with a lot of rain.
Robert Carlyle, as Da, is great with the boys and gentle with Angela. Even when drunk, he plays it for laughs. Emily Watson knows about pain. After harrowing performances in Breaking The Waves, The Boxer and Hilary And Jackie, she needs to lighten up. No chance with Angela. When not holding a howling toddler, she is flat on the bed, suffering major depression. The budding actors (Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, Michael Legge), who take Frank from eight to 18 don't look anything like each other. No matter. They have the charm. And that is what this is about.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001