Angela's Ashes

That Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up wretchedly poor in Ireland was a best-seller owes much to his tone: wry, self-deprecating, witty and remarkably free of self-pity, given that he and his brothers spent much of their childhoods hungry, cold, sick and humiliated by spiteful children and feckless adults. Alan Parker's adaptation is meticulous, unsentimental,...read more

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That Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up wretchedly poor in Ireland was a best-seller owes much to his tone: wry, self-deprecating, witty and remarkably free of self-pity, given that he and his brothers spent much of their childhoods hungry, cold,

sick and humiliated by spiteful children and feckless adults. Alan Parker's adaptation is meticulous, unsentimental, beautifully acted and uses narration to evoke McCourt's distinctive voice, but nearly two and a half hours worth of dying babies, rain-spattered streets, ragged children and filthy,

bug-infested rooms is a bit oppressive. Born in Brooklyn in 1930, Frank (played by Joe Breen as a child, Ciaran Owens as an adolescent and Michael Legge as a teenager) was the oldest child of Angela (Emily Watson) and Malachy (Robert Carlyle) McCourt. His parents fled impoverished, class-conscious

Ireland individually, hoping to find fortune in the US; they returned home together, poorer than ever, after the death in infancy of their fifth child drove Angela to a nervous collapse. Malachy's alcoholism and stubborn pride (he refused work that was "beneath his dignity") insured that the

family remained destitute and desperate; Malachy eventually decamped for good, leaving Angela and the children (she bore seven; four lived) to scrape by on welfare and church charity. That the film isn't sheer misery is largely a credit to the cast. Watson nurtures a small spark in Angela, but

never falls back on uplifting Hollywood clichés about smiling through the tears; her Angela is, ultimately, defeated by the burdens life piles on her shoulders. The subtle Carlyle breathes surprising warmth into the thankless role of Malachy, and Parker elicits excellent performances from the

young actors.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: R
  • Review: That Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up wretchedly poor in Ireland was a best-seller owes much to his tone: wry, self-deprecating, witty and remarkably free of self-pity, given that he and his brothers spent much of their childhoods hungry, cold, sick a… (more)

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