23 November 2003 | khatcher-2
Read the novel first - then see the film: you will appreciate things better
The Emerald Isle, due to its naturally green countryside, has more than its fair share of rain; we see plenty of that in `Angela's Ashes: and people splashing or wading through murky puddles to get to their rented houses: the tenants may be able to afford the few shillings rent per week, or may be not. Such were the conditions in a slum of Limerick, locality afamed for its humorous five-lined verses, in the west of Eire, then still very much under English `ownership'. Eire is today the only European country to have less population than it did in 1900. Reading/watching `Angela's Ashes' makes it quite clear why that was so: the Irish emigrated to North America and Australia, and indeed as a lad trying to grow up in post-war London I could hear comments like `there are more Irish in Islington than in Ireland'. I could have mentioned any other suburb of London, but it so happens that Alan Parker and Emily Watson were both born in this inner suburb. Many of those Irish émigrés found fame and fortune, and their offspring have helped to keep the White House occupied, though mostly they found their ways into suburbs of Chicago, New York, Boston, etc.
But the 1930's in poor suburbs of New York in the Great Depression was hardly a friendly environment lurking behind the awesome sight of the lady with the torch in the harbour (a present of the French Government).
`Angela's Ashes' records those grim years for a poor family, based on hard autobiographical facts; but Frank McCourt's book better conveys that curiously Irish sense of fatalistic humour combined with that strangely abject Catholicism so pervasive in life of those times. The elements contrast and contradict themselves: the useless alcoholic father who must be respected because he is their father, though later he disappears, and the boy's (Frankie) obedient and supposedly devout sessions at the confessionary box, would seem to veer into mirth if it were not for the sinister underlying sociological aspects. And it is the classroom where much of this spoon-fed doctrinal interpretation obviates the ruthless imposition of supposedly `clean' ideology - whether Catholic or not.
Beautifully filmed in almost black and white, with more colour creeping in as the film progresses, undoubtedly Alan Parker has done a good job and has tried to remain faithful to the philosophical concepts of the book. Excellent Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, but no less so the different youngsters used in the film as the children grew up, especially Michael Legge. Other secondary actors are all exemplary, well cast. The result is a film that has an authentic feel to it, such that having already read the book and seeing this film twice in no way diminishes the interest it suscitates. The music is a very different kind of John Williams to what we are accustomed, giving correct ambience to the story's unfolding.