Orphans

Orphans

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Sentiment and mayhem, religion and blasphemy coexist in Peter Mullan's audacious debut as writer/director. There is madness, it seems, that disengages the good people of Glasgow from their state of grace. Violence is explored as an antidote to grief and absurdity, as a refuge for compassion.

The evening before their mother's funeral, the Flynn brothers and their mentally-challenged, disabled sister, Sheila (the remarkable Rosemarie Stevenson), meet for a private farewell ceremony, arranged by Thomas (Gary Lewis), the eldest, who takes this kind of thing seriously. Michael (Douglas Henshall) and John (Stephen McCole) go along, feeling embarrassed and awkward. Later, in the pub, when Thomas sings a song in memory of his mother, Michael punches a man for laughing. A brawl ensues, during which Michael is stabbed.

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What follows is a series of farcical and frightening incidents, culminating in the funeral itself, which can hardly be called conventional. John swears he'll kill the guy in the pub, while Michael tries to staunch his wound. Thomas mends a smashed Madonna and Sheila find her way home in the dark before the storm breaks.

Shot in Glasgow, the film follows in the tradition of Gillies Mackinnon's Small Faces and has a harder edge than Stephen Frears' Roddy Doyle movies. This is Catholic working class life beyond the limits of restraint where the concept of social order collapses and acts of individual kindness come as a surprise. Anything might and does happen. With the exception of Sheila, who is stoical in the face of fear, the family appears set on self-destruction. How it survives, and in what physical state, is enhanced by powerful performances. This is not a comic film. It is a desperate human story, with achingly funny bits.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Jet black comedy about family tribulations in the run up to a funeral.
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