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Given the number of people who have read Frank McCourt's bestseller, there should be a vast audience curious to see what has happened to the book on the way to the screen. Readers already have formed their own visions of those the author has described. But the important thing about director Alan Parker's film version, which he co-scripted with Laura Jones, is that it stands impressively on its own as an affecting story of poverty and the human spirit in the face of crushing obstacles.
This is a sad, often grim film reflecting the struggle, but McCourt's rich perspective also shines through. The film is superbly cast. Actress Emily Watson, so convincing in whatever she undertakes, brings McCourt's mother Angela vividly to life so that we feel her pain, frustrations and anger. Robert Carlyle succeeds in making Frank's dad both irresponsible for his habit of drinking away whatever paycheck he manages to get when he is employed and adding further hardship for his family, yet sympathetic for the affection he feels for his son and for the pressures that govern his life. It takes three actors to portray Frank at various ages--Joe Breen as Young Frank, Ciaran Owens as Middle Frank and Michael Legge as Older Frank, all of whom help depict the author convincingly.
Shooting in Limerick, Dublin and Cork, Parker achieves much-needed realism to afford a sense of what growing up under such dire circumstances in Ireland must have been like. He also emphasizes the restricting role religion played for McCourt and others in similar environments, yet he gets considerable humor as well from situations that arise and approaches the material with integrity. Parker can tend in his films to exert a heavy hand but this time he uses restraint as he weaves the story into a rich study of character and arduous existence, and he gets strong, tasteful assistance from production designer Geoffrey Kirkland and director of photography Michael Seresin. John Williams provides the right combination of music.
Keep in mind that you don't have to have read the book to appreciate this fine film. A Paramount Pictures release.