Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index


Directed by Starring Emily Watson, and Robert Carlyle

A boy learns from his father and mother as he grows up in a small Irish town without any means of obtaining money.



3 stars+

March 19th, 2000 in the Theatre


Based on a true story, Angela's Ashes is set in beautiful Ireland, though I'm sure the Irish poor who lived there  wouldn't call it that.  We start off when the boy is five or six, when his newborn sister is taken from the world in Brooklyn.  His family is forced to leave America and join Angela's family in Ireland. 

There, he leads a life of hardship, but what is most painful is watching his father, the person who he looked up to, search heartlessly for a job, and when he finally gets one, to drink up all the wages, leaving his four sons without anything for food, clothing, or heat.  Angela always somehow finds something to keep them warm, and barely fed.  But she loses two more children in the process.

When he's ten years old, Frankie excels at school, and tries to work to support his mother and brothers.  His father has gone over to England to work in the factories for World War II, but has never sent any money back to them.  But Frankie nearly goes blind while shoveling and delivering coal, so his mother makes him stop.  But it's obvious that he is already more responsible than his father. 

At sixteen, he is still living with his mother, but after they get evicted (for burning a wall for heat, in a terrifically heartwarming scene), they must bunk up with another man, who quickly takes Angela into his bed.  Frankie is so angry, that he has to leave.  He gets a respectable job as a telegram delivery boy, and earns more by writing nasty letters for the local money lender. 

But he has part of his father in him, too.  It's terrifying to watch him.  It starts off innocently, while paying to see a friend's sisters naked from the window, and the fights in school, running into the theatre when nobody was looking, and fooling around with the daughter of a telegram recipient. 

But then he turns sixteen, has his first beer, and comes home singing like his father.  He scolds his mother for sleeping with the old fat man where they used to board, and slaps her. 

That's when he realizes what he's become.  When the money lender dies, he steals her money, throws her records in the river, and buys a ticket by boat to America.  He confesses all his sins to a friar while crying in church, and suddenly feels cleansed. 

There is a celebration for him the night before he leaves, and he is finally on his way to America. 

If anything, the movie was too long.  But in telling the life story of a boy, perhaps that's not long enough.  In watching his mother and father, Frankie learns that he doesn't want to be like either of them.  He has to be strong, like his mother, and have his wits, like his father, though.  But he has to do it without falling into their traps. 

It's amazing what a little cleaning up will do.  As a grubby poor boy, he isn't accepted into any job.  But once he gets some nice clothing, he is accepted into society like everybody else. 

It must have been terrible to grow up in Europe at that time, without a steady income.  The class distinctions, the bigotry, and the disease made everybody think America was better.  Perhaps, just after the war, it was.  But with a father who wasn't willing to keep a job for more than a few days, and to take all the money while his wife and kids went without, must have made people very sour.

I must mention the lunar eclipse.  There were three major things wrong with it, and only one is excusable.  First, the moon was not full.  The director could have waited an extra two days to get a full moon.  That would have been so easy.  As it was, the moon was either a couple of days before or after full.  Second, the moon is almost never pitch black during an eclipse.  I saw one about ten years ago that was almost black, but even with all that dust and soot in the air from the volcano, there was still a tinge of red on the moon.  There MUST be refraction of the red light through Earth's atmosphere.  The third point is the excusable one.  A lunar eclipse takes hours to complete.  An hour for the lighter penumbral shadow, which is barely perceptible, a couple of hours (or more) for the main shadow to cross, a while in permanent shadow, and then repeat backwards.  That would have been difficult to do in a movie, of course, so what they showed was for dramatic effect, and it sets the mood quite nicely.  It is strange that they showed enough knowledge to display the penumbra before the actual shadow, but not for any of the other points above.


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