Frank McCourt grew up a poor boy in the streets of Ireland. As a young boy, he sees some of his younger brothers and sisters die because they have no money for food or clothing. His father (Robert Carlyle) can't hold a job, and when he does get one, he spends all the money on alcohol. Even though his father is no good, Frank still needed his approval and love, and his father just doesn't give him what he wants most. His mother (Emily Watson) tries the best she can to hold the family together. Whether its picking up coal off the streets, or moving into a home that is paid for by relatives, or going begging to the church, or even living with a family member who looks for sexual favors just to allow them to live there, she is the backbone of the family. I think at the time Frank didn't respect his mother for what she sacrificed for his family, but as time went on and he wrote the book, he realized what she did for him and his brothers, and the book was a tribute to her. Life for Frank was hard, but he was still a child. He has fun with his friends and his brothers. He learns early that he needs to become a man to help the family, but that doesn't stop him from being a child. All he wants to do is make enough money to get to America, where he can start the life he was meant to live. The movie, and the book, follows Frank's life from very early on, to when he finally gets enough money to leave. And in between we see the hardships of growing up poor and at times fatherless in Ireland.
The scenery and imagery of Angela's Ashes is what I remember most about the movie. From their apartment that constantly floods, to the coal factories Frank works in, to the schools he attends, every location has an old, realistic feel to it. In talking with the director, Alan Parker, he said that every detail about every location was discussed with Frank McCourt, and that when McCourt actually saw the scenes in the school, he was overcome by how real it all was. The performances of the actors was also a standout in this film. Emily Watson could easily garner yet another Academy Award nomination for her role as the title character Angela. You could see the sorrow in her eyes throughout the film. Losing a child is hard enough, but losing three, and still being able to move on and care for the rest of your children is an amazing thing. But even as she continued caring for her surviving children, you could see the sadness and hopelessness in Angela, and that is a testament to Watson. I asked her if by the end of the movie she felt like she was a parent to these children, and she said that they all really became a family. She also said that even though the story was sad and heartbreaking, having the children running around all the time helped keep the set lighthearted. The real stars of the film though, are the three young actors who played Frank. Joe Breen played Young Frank, and it is his image that is on the promotional poster. Joe had never acted before, and was picked out of a casting call of thousands in Ireland. He says though that his favorite thing to do is work on the farm back home. Ciaran Owens played Middle Frank. His brother is also an actor, starring in The Butcher Boy. And lastly, Older Frank was played by Michael Legge. They were asked what the hardest part of the film was, and they all said it was just that the story was so depressing. But they all were able to play their role to an amazing degree. They said they all got together early on and met each other, even though they only had one scene together, to discuss the character and try and create a thread that connected all their performances. It is hard to have three actors playing one character, especially one that is still alive, but all three pulled it off.
So overall, Angela's Ashes was a sad and moving story that I found to be entertaining. At times it seemed too long, and I felt that there were too many people throwing up throughout. But the story was good, and the scenery and acting was spectacular. Definitely one to go see.
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