Volume 93, Issue 56

Wednesday, January 26, 2000


Ashes a worthy adaptation

Play It To The Bone packs a soft punch

Comic legend gets animated

Ashes a worthy adaptation

Photo by Daviv Appleby
APPARENTLY, EVEN THE IRISH HAVE A HARD TIME WITH JOYCE. Michael Legge plays an older Frank McCourt in the successful film adaptation, Angela's Ashes.

By Mark Torrington
Gazette Staff

In the '30s and '40s, Frank McCourt survived down-and-out times in Limerick, Ireland to come to America and write a pulitzer prize-winning memoir about his struggles. The result was Angela's Ashes. Now, a film by the same name has hit theatres across the world. Patience is clearly a virtue.

McCourt's story begins in Brooklyn with a five year-old Frank, his parents (played by Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle), three brothers and a newborn sister. The sister soon dies and the family returns to their homeland in Ireland where they find only poverty, disease and bigotry.

Their apartment is infested with fleas, stinks of human waste and the first floor is regularly flooded with rain. There's no work for Frank's father and charities are hard against them for being protestant. There also exists an ever-looming fear of catching the consumption and dying.

As the story progresses, several more of the family's children die and the father becomes more and more apt to spend his dole down at the local pub, instead of saving it to support his family. Meanwhile, on top of all of these other troubles, the surviving children must endure the usual trials of adolescence.

In the beginning of the film, the narrator, an older Frank McCourt, says, "When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all." This seems a reasonable statement, considering he lost so many siblings to an indiscriminate disease – his life was a gift. In the hopes of shedding this lowly existence, Frank eventually strikes out on his own and escapes to America.

In the book, McCourt's narrative voice gives the story a wry humour that ends up lost in the adaptation to the screen. Parker's direction, however, makes up for this loss by steering the mood of the story more towards the side of tragedy, utilizing his cinematic advantage and employing abundant mise-en-scene and dramatic imagery.

The family shares a basin for relieving themselves, wears clothes that are falling apart at the seams and have a permanent layer of dirt on their skin. Although they may seem inconsequential, an omission of any of these details would have left the film suffering.

Parker further rounds out the movie's nuances with his dismal imagery. The film is full of rain, puddles and dark skies. The scenes in the house, the streets, the churches and most everywhere are starkly unromantic. In fact, throughout the entire film, the dreariness only stops for one fleeting glimpse of a lunar eclipse on the night of Frank's departure. Though this moment is short, it successfully signals Frank's imminent freedom to the new world by beaming down a shining message of hope.

Overall, Angela's Ashes is an inspirational, heart-warming and heart-breaking tale of transcending one's time, place and parenting. It is a story about people who put faith in what their Lord has given them and are driven by the hope that the whole of life will add up to something greater than its parts.

These aspirations seem to prove possible in the still unfolding life of McCourt. His character narrates, "It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while." Many would concur with McCourt's opinion – at last count his book has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

But you'd better see the movie before you start sending any envy his way.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000