Song for a Raggy Boy (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/04/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

With impressive acting and a powerful script, this is basically The Magdalene Sisters meets Dead Poets Society – it would be uplifting if it wasn’t so damn harrowing and depressing.

Aisling Walsh’s Song For A Raggy Boy is similar to Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters in several ways: both are based on a true story, both are about abusive regimes in religious institutions in Ireland and both films are seeking to ignite a sense of outrage in the audience. (In fact, Walsh made her own film about the Magdalene Laundries – a TV play entitled Sinners). The film is based on Patrick Delaney’s autobiographical novel of the same name.

Traumatised Veteran Discovers Brutal School Regime

Aidan Quinn stars as William Franklin, a traumatised veteran of the Spanish Civil War who has witnessed the executions of his friends and lover. He arrives in Ireland in 1939 and takes a job as a teacher in a Boys’ Reformatory school, where he inspires Dead Poets Society-levels of devotion in his students as he teaches them to read and appreciate poetry. However, he is outraged to discover the brutal system of bullying and cruelty employed by the sadistic Brother John (Iain Glen) and he finds himself fighting against an entirely different fascist regime.

The performances are excellent, particularly Quinn, who suffuses the role with a quiet heroism that makes you wish he made more films. By contrast, Iain Glen’s portrayal of the vicious Brother John is nothing short of terrifying, especially the way he froths at the mouth as he dishes out the brutal floggings.

The cast also includes John Travers (excellent as Liam Mercier, the talented student who forms a close bond with Franklin) and Marc Warren, type-cast again as a perverted priest who buggers the Patrick Delaney character (i.e. the author of the novel) to the strains of Danny Boy on the soundtrack.

Shocking, Harrowing Film

Make no mistake about it, Song For A Raggy Boy contains shocking, harrowing scenes of violence. If you thought the flogging in The Passion of the Christ was stomach-churning, Raggy Boy trumps it by having Brother John severely flog two small boys (for the crime of hugging each other on Christmas day over a forbidden wall). Frankly, the 15 certificate is way too lenient. Luckily, the scene is quickly followed by the most satisfying onscreen punch since Mr Baxter decked the bullying games teacher in Grange Hill.

Admittedly, the film occasionally teeters on the brink of cliché (the Dead Poets-inspired ending is perhaps a step too far), but it’s saved by the quality of the performances and Walsh’s assured direction. It’s also notable for deliberately not tying up all the loose ends – Warren’s character escapes more or less unpunished and the final ‘This is what happened to so and so’ credit sequence is guaranteed to provoke gasps of shock and anger.

In short, Song For A Raggy Boy is a powerful, moving film with superb performances from everyone concerned, though those of a weak disposition may want to look away during the floggings. Recommended.

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Content updated: 17/12/2017 13:58

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