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Born into a poor Irish Catholic family, Frank McCourt (growing up; Joe Breen, Cirian Owens, Michael Legge) relates how his over-optimistic little family move from New York to Ireland when he is a toddler, hoping to find a better life than in the slums of Manhattan. Disappointed, the family inches on, barely ahead of starvation. He grows up in Limerick, with a father (Robert Carlyle) who could never hold down a job as well as he could hold a pint, and an all suffering mother, Angela (Emily Watson), who keeps bearing children in the face of relentless poverty and desolation. He loves them, though, especially his siblings, and especially little Malachy (Shane Murray-Corcoran, Devon Murray, Peter Halpin).

"Angela's Ashes is a moving picture poem about poverty, and how unglamorous it is. What it is that the title refers to is not made explicit in the film, but at a guess it's the ashes of the wretched Angela, the author's poor mother; I imagine a nondescript urn with the ashes playing a symbolic and aching role in the narrative.* It's one of the many details the film could not quite manage to include - which is a shame, considering how many other details that it did include could have been sacrificed. So rich, so detailed and so elaborately made that I feel guilty for not heaping effusive praise on it, Angela's Ashes is a masterpiece of cinematic time and place travel. The abundant evocation of Limerick in the 30s and 40s is achieved with the creative collaboration of design, cinematography and music, each playing an equal and vital part in taking us from our cinema seats into the world of young Frank McCourt, poor little bugger. But it is the over-burdened script that lets it down in terms of emotional impact. Now, some will argue that emotional impact is not the only criterion, which is true. However, a personal account of a man's youth spent in such misery ought to be a journey for us, a pain and joy riddled affair. As it is, Angela's Ashes is awesome on every artistic level but the sum of its great parts remains elusively little. The film tells us so much about the people and the place and the time that we feel as if we are really there - but the structure of the screenplay, a lack of focus in story telling, deprives us of the ultimate hit the film promises with its rich goodies. And there is nothing to fault on the screen: performances are tops (if a trifle too kind to the real life characters), the production reeks of an amber mood that is echoed in the score, and the abject poverty of the McCourt family is unbearably painful to witness."
Andrew L. Urban

"Bless me father for I have sinned. Yes, I'm one of the seven or so people in the world who hasn't read Frank McCourt's book. Sorry but the idea of reading a book about grinding poverty in Ireland just didn't appeal. Mea culpa! So I was very pleasantly surprised by Alan Parker's new film based on McCourt's story. While the film isn't exactly entertaining in the traditional sense, it slowly enveloped me. This is a finely wrought tale of the deepest pain and the most exhilarating joy; of family and love and sorrow and growing up. Parker produces a wonderful re-creation of Ireland between the wars. The feel of the drizzling rain and the biting cold are so real, you almost have to dry yourself off after watching it. But the heart of the film is its portrait of young Frank; shown as three chapters from his life. Joe Breen as Frank at age 5, Ciaran Owens (at 10) and Michael Legge (at 15) give performances so seamless, so sympathetic with each other, you hardly even notice the changes in age. Robert Carlyle is outstanding as the oddly likeable but mostly infuriating Malachy McCourt. Emily Watson is also great as Angela, although I felt she didn't "age" nearly enough during the film. Towards the end, there are a couple of touches which strike a wrong note; and lovers of the book should note the ending is different. But these are relatively minor cavils. Angela's Ashes is a beautifully made and exquisitely detailed film; a most rewarding experience. Hopefully I'm now absolved of my sin. I'll go and say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys for my penance."
David Edwards

"It’s hard to know how good or bad Frank McCourt’s bestselling memoir might be by looking at this adaptation, which uses the book as a jumping-off point for standard Alan Parker cuteness. As with most Parker movies, it’s handsome in a meaningless way: the shots are composed in rich, deep greys, giving the cobblestone streets and leaky attics an impersonal sheen. Like John Boorman (whose much superior film The General this sometimes recalls) Parker is always, on principle, an entertainer, streamlining scenes as far as possible, filling them with comic bits of business and immediately striking ‘hooks.’ Compared with Boorman, though, Parker’s sensibility is far more shameless and tacky: he’s fond of scenes with toddlers that have the vaguely obscene impact of Anne Geddes’ photos, lots of semi-naked children jumping around and mugging for the camera. He’s also very strong on toilet humor – chamber-pots play a big role here – and scenes of people throwing up. Parker’s movies are sometimes guilty pleasures, at they're strongest when they push their kitsch impulses in aggressive, even shocking directions (as in Pink Floyd: The Wall and, differently, Bugsy Malone). Angela’s Ashes, though, is just long and boring, confined by its need to be faithful to a much-loved source. Some of the whimsical and/or squalid vignettes (‘you’ll laugh, you’ll cry’) are funny or touching in themselves, but as a ‘coming-of-age’ saga this is familiar stuff, and Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle do their best without managing to efface the memories of their earlier, better film roles."
Jake Wilson

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Since writing the review, I've read the handsomely produced production notes - which cinema audiences don't get, but us media types do - so we may as well share some of it with you. There is a quote from McCourt about the title: "My mother died in 1981. We took her ashes back to Limerick to scatter on the family graveyard. Originally I was going to bring the story up to that point, but my editor suggested the nice circular trip: born in New York, go to Ireland, return to the States. I had the title and didn't want to let it go."
Andrew L. Urban

CAST: Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Cirian Owens, Michael Legge, Ronnie Masterson, Pauline McLynn, Liam Carney, Eanna Macliam, Shane Murray-Corcoran, Devon Murray, Peter Halpin; narrated by Andrew Bennett.

DIRECTOR: Alan Parker

PRODUCER: David Brown, Doochy Moult, Alan Parker, Scott Rudin

SCRIPT: Laura Jones, Alan Parker (Screenplay) (Frank McCourt – Book)


EDITOR: Gerry Hambling ACE

MUSIC: John Williams

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Geoffrey Kirkland




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