×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Song For A Raggy Boy

Director Aisling Walsh for the most part brings an admirably even-handed approach to brutal material in "Song For a Raggy Boy," adapted from Cork writer Patrick Galvin's autobiographical account of the contradiction between piety and cruelty in an Irish-Catholic boy's reform school.

With:
William Franklin - Aidan Quinn Brother John - Iain Glenn Brother Mac - Marc Warren Brother Tom - Dudley Sutton Father Damian - Alan Devlin Brother Whelan - Stuart Graham Liam Mercier - John Travers Patrick Delaney - Chris Newman

Director Aisling Walsh for the most part brings an admirably even-handed approach to brutal material in “Song For a Raggy Boy,” adapted from Cork writer Patrick Galvin’s autobiographical account of the contradiction between piety and cruelty in an Irish-Catholic boy’s reform school. While it’s compromised by intrusive flashbacks, a heavy-handed score and a conclusion that opts for movie-ish uplift over muted resolution, the sober realism that prevails in many other aspects of the film makes this an absorbing, affecting drama that could score modest theatrical play in addition to wider attention in festival and TV slots.

Coming on the heels of “The Magdalene Sisters,” Walsh’s film represents a male counterpart to director Peter Mullan’s Venice fest winner about wayward Irish girls in a convent-prison. While it’s more conventional and no match for the earlier film’s incisive characters or searing attack on Church hypocrisy, “Raggy Boy” nonetheless taps a rich vein of pathos.

Returning to Ireland in 1939 stigmatized as a socialist after fighting with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, William Franklin (Aidan Quinn) takes a teaching job as the only non-cleric on staff at St. Jude’s, named for the Patron Saint of lost causes. He immediately clashes with disciplinarian Brother John (Iain Glen), who advises him the boys — mostly in their early teens — are degenerate creatures to be addressed by their inmate numbers.

Slowly breaking through their barriers of distrust, Franklin forges a kinship with the mostly illiterate truants, thieves and often blameless abandoned kids in his charge. He is particularly drawn to Mercier (John Travers), a plucky boy whose intelligence and questioning nature often are interpreted as rebelliousness.

Intervening to stop Brother John’s vicious punishment of the boys for every minor infraction, Franklin makes a powerful enemy in the priest. As the lay teacher works with the lads to instill a sense of achievement, self-worth, future possibility and freedom, Brother John intensifies his regime of fear, coming down increasingly hard on the boys and identifying in Mercier a means to strike back at Franklin.

While the screenplay judiciously avoids blanket accusations by confining the truly sadistic behavior to one priest, the film underlines the moral fragility of the Church. Authority figures choose not to see what goes on within the school’s walls or are aware of the brutality but too weak-willed to challenge the way discipline is maintained.

More disturbing still is the response when shy newcomer Delaney (Chris Newman) reveals during confession he was raped by Brother Mac (Marc Warren). Audiences likely will squirm to read in an end-title caption relaying the characters’ outcomes that the same priest transferred to a U.S. parish where he still lives.

The frequent flashbacks to Franklin’s bitter experience and loss of loved ones during the war represent an interruption that adds nothing essential in terms of thematic weight, and the visual use of overexposure to signify time change in the segs seems clumsily prosaic.

But it’s in the final act following a shocking explosion of violence that Walsh and her co-scripters really slip up. Ignoring more than one opportunity to end on a note of understated hope, the film lurches instead into syrupy territory recalling “Dead Poets Society.” The scene is especially jarring given the measured, unsentimental observation that characterizes the drama up to that point.

Quinn gives a warm, intelligent performance, quietly incorporating nuances of the troubled character’s damaged past as he establishes complex relationships with the kids, convincingly played by scruffy, authentic-looking urchins. Glen also impresses, his soft-spoken sternness simmering with rage and self-righteous contempt, delivering words of pure menace with chilling sanctimony.

Lenser Peter Robertson deftly contrasts the austere compositions and drab, colorless tones within the reformatory with softer light in the surrounding pastoral land where the boys do field work. More Spartan use of Richard Blackford’s overly lush and emotionally manipulative score might have been in order.

Song For A Raggy Boy

Ireland-Denmark-U.K.-Spain

Production: A Lolafilms, Subotica Entertainment presentation of a Subotica Entertainment (Ireland)/Moviefan (Denmark)/ Zoma Films (U.K.)/Lolafilms (Spain) co-production. (International sales: Lolafilms, U.K.) Produced by Tristan Orpen Lynch, Dominic Wright, John McDonnell, Kevin Byron Murphy. Executive producer, Michael Lunderskov, Andres Vicente Gomez. Co-producers, Gillian Barrie, Peter Garde. Directed by Aisling Walsh. Screenplay, Patrick Galvin, Walsh, Kevin Byron Murphy.

Crew: Camera (color), Peter Robertson; editor, Bryan Oates; music, Richard Blackford; production designer, John Hand; costume designer, Allison Byrne; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Cross; associate producer, Will Machin; assistant director, Andrew Hegarty; casting, Dorothy MacGabhann. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema), Jan. 19, 2003. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: William Franklin - Aidan Quinn Brother John - Iain Glenn Brother Mac - Marc Warren Brother Tom - Dudley Sutton Father Damian - Alan Devlin Brother Whelan - Stuart Graham Liam Mercier - John Travers Patrick Delaney - Chris Newman

More Film

  • 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Jurassic Park' Added to

    'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Jurassic Park,' 'My Fair Lady' Added to National Film Registry

    “Brokeback Mountain,” “Jurassic Park,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Shining,” “Hud” and “Monterey Pop” are among the best known titles among this year’s additions to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. A place on the list — always made up of 25 films — guarantees the film will be preserved under the terms [...]

  • Christian Bale'Vice' film premiere, Arrivals, Los

    Christian Bale Recalls Meeting Donald Trump: 'He Thought I Was Bruce Wayne'

    With Christian Bale’s latest film, “Vice,” a political dramedy, it’s inevitable ties will be drawn between the film and the current political administration and its chief, President Donald Trump. On the red carpet for the premiere of “Vice,” Bale, who stars as former Vice President Dick Cheney, shared that he met the current president while [...]

  • ‘Bumblebee’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Bumblebee’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Bumblebee.” Ads placed for the sci-fi/action film had an estimated media value of $6.31 million through Sunday for 941 national [...]

  • Ryan Reynolds Stunt

    Film News Roundup: Ryan Reynolds' Michael Bay Film '6 Underground' Wraps Production

    In today’s film news roundup, shooting has wrapped on Ryan Reynolds’ “6 Underground,” BAFTA LA names new board members, and the WGA East honors longtime exec Randall Jasta.  PRODUCTION Michael Bay’s Ryan Reynolds-starrer “6 Underground” has wrapped production. More Reviews Film Review: 'Springsteen on Broadway' Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical Netflix and Skydance Media completed [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen on Broadway

    Film Review: 'Springsteen on Broadway'

    Hope you like the 69-year-old version of Bruce Springsteen’s face, because it’s virtually all you’re going to see for the two hours and 40 minutes of the filmed “Springsteen on Broadway” — other than the bare brick wall of the theater casting a dim glow in the background beyond those gray sideburns, and two songs’ [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'A Star Is Born,' 'Vice' Lead 2018 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Nominees

    The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) announced their nominees for the 8th annual AACTA International Awards on Tuesday. “A Star Is Born” and “Vice” lead the pack, with five and four nominations respectively. The two leading films compete with “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Roma” for best film, while Nicole Kidman becomes the [...]

  • China's Government Orders Talent Home to

    After Golden Horse Awards Embarrassment, China Orders Talent Home for Huabiao Ceremony

    China’s government quietly ordered top Chinese talent back to the mainland from abroad this past weekend to attend a Beijing ceremony for its highest film industry honors, the loosely bi-annual Huabiao Awards. The move came just weeks after it directed mainland film executives and talent to snub after-parties and return home as quickly as possible [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content