×

Borstal Boy

A drama "inspired" by Irish writer Brendan Behan's autobiographical book of the same name, "Borstal Boy" mixes a rites-of-passage story with political and sexual elements to solid but finally uninvolving results. This feature debut by theater director Peter Sheridan (brother of helmer Jim Sheridan) will likely get its longest parole on the small screen, where its unadorned shooting style and unremarkable dramatics will play best.

With:
With: Shawn Hatosy, Danny Dyer, Michael York, Lee Ingleby, Robin Laing, Eva Birthistle.

A drama “inspired” by Irish writer Brendan Behan’s autobiographical book of the same name, “Borstal Boy” mixes a rites-of-passage story with political and sexual elements to solid but finally uninvolving results. This feature debut by theater director Peter Sheridan (brother of helmer Jim Sheridan) will likely get its longest parole on the small screen, where its unadorned shooting style and unremarkable dramatics will play best.

During the early days of WWII, 16-year-old Brendan (Shawn Hatosy), a staunch Irish republican, is arrested in Liverpool after disembarking with some sticks of dynamite strapped to his legs. His bombing mission thus thwarted, he’s sent to a reform school for youngsters (“borstal”) in the flatlands of East Anglia, in the backside of England.

Fanatically anti-British, Brendan finds himself living side by side not only with the perceived enemy but also with an assortment of juvenile delinquents, including a Polish Jew who tried to escape to Palestine; a Cockney sailor, Charlie Milwall (Danny Dyer), who dreams of fleeing to Singapore; and a Scottish lad, Jock (Robin Laing).

Life in borstal slowly forces Brendan to learn to live with others, and at least mitigate his blind hatred of the Brits, without losing his principles. The revelation of one of the boys’ closeted homosexuality is sympathetically dealt with, though Brendan’s incipient romance with the daughter, Liz (Eva Birthistle), of the institution’s tough but fair governor (Michael York) is just too schematic.

Part of the film’s problem is that it tries to overload the story with meaning at the expense of character. Dialogue is often over-explanatory, as in Brendan’s exchange with Liz: “I was brought up to hate the English. I had to come here to learn about love … I had it both ways, just like Oscar Wilde!” Quite.

Still, Hatosy is good in the lead, starting out as an unsmiling teenage fanatic and slowly morphing into a more rounded young man. A scene with York in which he finally agrees to postpone the republican fight until the end of the war is much more powerful emotionally than any of those among the borstal boys.

Other players are well cast, with the exception of York, who overdoes his period-Brit accent. Irish locations are not always convincing as East Anglia, though Ciaran Tanham’s lensing does capture its bleak, wintry light. Production values and period detail are OK on a budget, and Stephen McKeon’s score is a help in bringing some warmth to the drama.

Borstal Boy

Ireland-U.K.

Production: A Hell's Kitchen (Ireland)/Dakota Films (U.K.) production, with participation of British Screen, BSkyB and the Irish Film Board, in association with RTE and Full Schilling Investments. Produced by Pat Moylan, Arthur Lappin. Executive producers, Jim Sheridan, Nye Heron. Co-producer, Judy Counihan. Directed by Peter Sheridan. Screenplay, Nye Heron, Sheridan, inspired by the book by Brendan Behan.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor prints), Ciaran Tanham; editor, Stephen O'Connell; music, Stephen McKeon; production designer, Crispian Sallis; art director, Michael Higgins; costume designer, Marie Tierney; sound (Dolby Digital), Phillipe Faujas; assistant director, Andrew Hegarty; casting, Maureen Hughes. Reviewed at Taormina Film Festival, July 4, 2000. (Also in Galway Film Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Shawn Hatosy, Danny Dyer, Michael York, Lee Ingleby, Robin Laing, Eva Birthistle.

More Film

  • Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The

    Andrew Lincoln's ‘Walking Dead’ Movie to Be Released Only in Theaters

    The planned movie centered on “The Walking Dead” character Rick Grimes will now run in theaters rather than on AMC. The announcement was made with a brief teaser video played at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, with the video ending with the words “Only in Theaters.” The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures. No [...]

  • Jennifer Beals The Last Tycoon

    Jennifer Beals Seeking SAG-AFTRA Board Seat as Matthew Modine Ally (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jennifer Beals is running for a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Beals is best known for starring as Bette Porter on the Showtime series “The L Word” and for her lead role as Alex Owens in the 1983 hit “Flashdance.” She’s starred in the [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

  • The Lion King Teaser

    'The Lion King' Leaping to $185 Million North American Debut

    Disney’s “The Lion King” is heading for a dominant $185 million opening weekend in North America, early estimates showed Friday. Should that number hold, “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and give the sagging domestic box office a badly needed boost. “The Lion King” would replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched [...]

  • Joe Anthony Russo

    Russo Brothers Announce 'Grimjack,' Live-Action 'Battle of the Planets' Adaptations

    Joe and Anthony Russo are looking to their youth to populate the development slate at their production company AGBO. A relatively obscure comic book called “Grimjack” will count the Russos as producers for an adaptation, they announced at San Diego Comic-Con. They’re also cooking up a live-action adaptation of the animated show “Battle of the [...]

  • Chadwick Boseman stars in 21 Bridges

    Watch Chadwick Boseman Hunt Down Killers in New '21 Bridges' Trailer

    Shots are fired in a new trailer for “21 Bridges,” starring Chadwick Boseman and J.K. Simmons, released during a Comic-Con panel today. The heist-thriller, produced by Joe and Anthony Russo of “Avengers: Endgame,” stars Boseman as an NYPD detective Andre Davis who finds himself embroiled in a city-wide manhunt after two cops are accused of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content