Parker has already confronted the issues of the absent or neglectful father, pretty much de rigueur in contemporary cinema (or society, for that matter), in The Wall and Wellville, so Frank's hope and despair over Malachy Sr. are particularly well-handled (if bombastically orchestrated; tone it down, guys!). Carlyle, who continues to push the envelope of his versatility, is ideal (if peculiarly Scottish, alas) as the Father Who Could Not Be; his performance is so spot-on that it's actually in his absence, later on when Frank is in his teens (Michael Legge), that his resonance and failure are most keenly felt. Legge, as the third Frank, delivers some of the film's toughest scenes, pummeling himself over his lust and guilt for Theresa Carmody (Kerry Condon), a lovely young lady on his telegram route who is stricken with consumption. As Frank edges into manhood, and Angela keeps compromising herself to keep her family alive, the story comes full circle. Watson, to her credit, maintains Angela's balance as a woman who has every right to feel sorry for herself and collapse but doesn't. In response to her husband's amorous demands, she calmly responds: "As long as there are no more children, eternal damnation sounds just fine to me." When dignity is removed, there is nothing left but will.
Angela's Ashes is a sharp and pungent distillation of the book. However, as far as the theme of childhood under duress goes, I found My Life as a Dog or the stridently Irish Into the West to be significantly more fulfilling. Parker's adaptation wants not for guts or heart, but McCourt's passionate ramblings, so adored on the page, prove a bit unwieldy for the screen.
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