Rural Ireland, 1939: Just returned from serving with the International Brigades in Spain, William Franklin (Quinn) takes up a teaching post at a boys' reformatory run by the Roman Catholic church. Making strides at improving literacy, he's soon locked in conflict with disciplinarian Brother John (Glen), whose evident brutality is nevertheless more visible than the abuses taking place behind closed doors. Historical distance may keep events in this adaptation of Patrick Galvin's autobiographical novel somewhat removed from its still urgent issues, but the catalogue of corporal punishment is undeniably harrowing. The film is most effective when wielding the strap, and merely workmanlike in other crucial areas. Comparisons with The Magdalene Sisters are instructive; the subject matter is not dissimilar, but whereas Mullan empathetically shaped the drama from the victims' point of view, the boys here are characterised less richly. The focus is firmly on the tussle between institutional repression and liberalising ideas, an emphasis unfortunately serving to underline the script's black-and-white schematising. Still, praise is due for Glen's scarily buttoned down enforcer and newcomer John Travers' artful dodger.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Aisling Walsh, Kevin Byron-Murphy|