Liam (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/02/2001

3 out of 5 stars
Running time: 90 mins

Watchable made-for-TV drama with some superb performances and a script by Jimmy ‘Cracker’ McGovern

British director Stephen Frears’ latest film (after High Fidelity) was initially intended for television, but given a last-minute big-screen release by BBC films, prompting an apology by the director for its ‘televisual’ look at its London Film Festival premiere last November.

Despite its TV-origins, however, this is more than deserving of the big-screen treatment, with Frears and screenwriter Jimmy McGovern presenting an engaging look at Catholic guilt, poverty and racial tensions, as seen through the eyes of the title character, 7 year-old Liam Sullivan (Anthony Borrows).

The film is set in 1930s Liverpool, during the depression, and will inevitably remind you of Alan Parker’s recent poverty-drama Angela’s Ashes, since that film was also told from the child’s point-of-view.

The plot follows three main stories: Liam prepares for his first communion, while struggling with both a crippling stammer and the trauma of having seen his mother (Claire Hackett) naked; Liam’s father (Ian Hart, brilliant as ever) loses his job as a docker and eventually turns to Oswald Mosely’s blackshirts out of rage and frustration; and Liam’s sister Teresa (Megan Burns) is taken into service by a wealthy Jewish family and experiences guilt when she forms a close bond with the mistress of the house, after acting as go-between for her and her lover.

The quality of the acting in the film is exceptional, with Borrows and Burns (both making their debuts) the standouts - Burns deservedly won a Best Young Actress award at the Venice festival. Borrows brilliantly conveys Liam’s frustration at his inability to communicate - the scene where he ‘sings’ his confession ("I sawww my mo-ther na-aaked!") is a particular highlight.

Some of the film’s imagery is a little heavy-handed at times, with bullying Sunday-school discussions about sin and the fiery torments of hell ("Each sin drives the nails deeper into Christ’s hands") often hammered home with a cut to a blazing fire, though this is arguably necessary, given the shocking nature of the film’s climax.

At any rate, the film does a convincing job of exploring the various racial tensions in the community (Jewish landlords and bosses, Irish labourers undercutting dock-workers to get jobs, Catholics and Protestants constantly fighting etc) and enough care is taken so that Hart’s joining of the blackshirts seems like the only option available to him, even while it seems ridiculous and sinister to his family - the scene where he first appears in blackshirt regalia is at once funny , pathetic and disturbing.

In short, then, the film is well-made, superbly acted, thought-provoking and not without humour, despite the bleakness of its subject matter. As such, it’s well-worth trying to catch on the big screen before its inevitable appearance on the BBC some time this year. Recommended.

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Content updated: 24/03/2019 02:57

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