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Angela's Ashes is a 1999 drama film based on the memoir of the same name by Frank McCourt. An international co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, it was co-written and directed by Alan Parker, and stars Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, and Michael Legge, the latter three playing the Young, Middle and Older Frank McCourt respectively.

Plot

Frank McCourt and his family live in America, and his parents celebrate the birth of their first daughter Margaret. Shortly after her birth, Margaret dies and Frank's mother Angela slips into depression. Frank's drunkard father Malachy Sr. leaves for several days and the children are left without food. Frank and his brother Malachy Jr. ask for help from his neighbors, who provide food for Frank, Malachy Jr., and their twin younger brothers Eugene and Oliver. The McCourt's neighbors send a letter to Angela's relatives in Ireland to ask for money to buy tickets for the McCourts to leave America.

After returning to Ireland, Malachy Sr. attempts to collect money for his time in the military but there is no record of his service and he is turned away. Shortly after their arrival, Oliver dies, and within a few weeks, so does Eugene. Malachy Sr. is unable to keep a job, and squanders the family's money on alcohol. He is too proud to beg or to collect much needed coal from the streets.

The McCourt family live in a small house at the end of a street, and the entire street shares one lavatory located outside the McCourts front door. Angela is forced to go to charitable organizations to beg for furniture while Malachy Sr. signs up for the dole. Frank and Malachy Jr. come home one day to find that the downstairs of the home has badly flooded. They find their parents upstairs where Angela has given birth to their new brother Michael.

Malachy Sr. berates Angela for begging for clothes and boots for her children and tries to prove his worth as a husband and father. The boys are tormented in school for their ratty shoes and Frank decides take his off and hide them. Frank's teacher reprimands the class for making fun of Frank and states they should not take pleasure in each other's misfortunes. Malachy Sr. looks for a job every day but due to his "funny manner" and northern Ireland accent he is unsuccessful. Around Easter Malachy Sr. receives his first job in Limerick, at the cement factory. The money he earns is spent in the pubs rather than on food for his family. One night, he arrives home singing old songs about Ireland. He gets the boys out of bed and makes them promise to die for Ireland. He oversleeps and loses his job the next day.

The boys in school are taught how to take communion bread/wafers. The boys are taken to church in their school classes and are each told to go in for a first confession. Frank sleeps in on the day of his first communion and his grandmother reacts harshly, as she tries to rectify the situation, criticising Frank and Malachy Sr. Frank is eager to "make the collection", an act in which young people who've just had their first communion wander around the town in their new communion clothes and are given sweets and money by their neighbours.

Frank's grandmother takes the family back to her house for a communion breakfast but Frank vomits up the food. His grandmother takes Frank back to the church to confess his sins. Frank misses the chance to get a collection but still wants to celebrate. He manages to sneak into the cinema with the help of his friend Mikey. Frank's parents sign him up for Irish dancing, which he predictably hates. He takes the money his mother gives him for dancing lessons and instead goes to the cinema, unknown to his parents. As a cover, he makes up dances at home for his parents.

Angela gives birth to another baby, Alphie, and Frank's grandparents send money which Malachy Sr. wastes at the pub. Angela sends Frank to the pub to loudly announce that Malachy Sr. stole the money for the baby in an attempt to shame him into coming home. When he arrives to collect his father, Frank decides not to try to bring Malachy Sr. home as a man that would steal money meant for his baby is beyond help.

Frank contracts typhoid and is near death, but recovers over the course of two months. He enjoys his time in the hospital as he is able to read Shakespeare without interruption. However, he is crestfallen to find his father at home with Alphie, meaning that Malachy Sr. lost another job. Frank is forced to repeat a year of school due to missing so much time while in the hospital. He is instructed to write a composition about Jesus being born in Limerick instead of Bethlehem, and his skill impresses the school enough to be moved back into his grade.

As World War II breaks out, Malachy Sr. leaves the family to go work at a factory in England to support the war effort. Angela tells the boys the only have to wait a few weeks for Malachy Sr. to send them a telegram money order, but she is soon forced to beg for leftovers from the church. Frank is forced to get a job as a teenager as no money is coming in from Malachy Sr. and the family has no food. Frank delivers coal and earns money for his family, but is forced to quit when he develops conjunctivitis from the coal dust.

Two days before Christmas, Angela is forced to beg for a food voucher again after Malachy Sr. fails to return from England. The next day, he comes home but does not bring any money for the family. Angela, Frank, and Malachy Jr. all accuse him of drinking away their money. On Christmas Day, he leaves the family again to travel to London. A week later, they receive a money order telegram, but none are sent after that.

The family is evicted and Frank's grandmother dies of pneumonia. They move in with Laman Griffin, who doesn't charge them rent but makes Angela cook and clean for him. Frank does well in school but wants to drop out to get a job that pays weekly so he can go to the movies every weekend. Frank discovers that Angela has also been sleeping with Griffin as part of their arrangement. After a physical altercation with Griffin, Frank leaves to stay with his uncle Pa and aunt Aggie.

Aggie buys Frank clothes for his new job at the post office delivering telegrams. He starts a relationship with Theresa, a girl he meets on his route, but she soon dies from consumption. Frank blames himself for her death, thinking God punished her for their premarital sex. He later delivers a telegram to moneylender Mrs. Finucane, who hires him to write nonpayment letters to borrowers in arrears. Frank's uncle buys him his first pint at the pub, and he returns home drunk. Angela witnesses his return and berates him for being like his father. Angry, he lashes out at her for sleeping with Griffin and slaps her. Frank confesses his sins at church and the priest reassures him that Theresa is in heaven and her death wasn't a punishment. Frank discovers Mrs. Finucane dead in her home and steals all of her money and her debt ledger. He destroys the ledger and uses her money to buy a ticket to America on a boat out of Cork. The night before he leaves, his family witnesses a lunar eclipse and his uncle Pa tells him it is a sign of good luck. The film ends with Frank reaching America and seeing the Statue of Liberty.

Cast

  • Emily Watson as Angela McCourt
  • Robert Carlyle as Malachy McCourt
  • Devon Murray as Middle Malachy
  • Joe Breen as Young Frank
  • Ciaran Owens as Middle Frank
  • Michael Legge as Older Frank
  • Kerry Condon as Theresa Carmody
  • Ronnie Masterson as Grandma Sheehan
  • Pauline McLynn as Aunt Aggie
  • Liam Carney as Uncle Pa Keating
  • Eanna MacLiam as Uncle Pat
  • Susan Fitzgerald as Sister Rita
  • Eamonn Owens as Quasimodo
  • Eileen Colgan as Philomena
  • Martin Benson as Christian Brother
  • Andrew Bennett as Narrator (voice)
  • Alan Parker (cameo) as Dr Campbell
  • Gerard McSorley as Father Gregory
  • Brendan O'Carroll as Man in pub

Production

Although set in Limerick, many street scenes were filmed in Cork. For example, the 'fleas in the mattress' scene was filmed at Farren Street, Blackpool and other scenes were shot at Roche's Buildings, Lower John Street and Barrack Street

Reception

With an estimated $25 million budget, the film grossed $13,042,112 in the US, making it a box-office bomb.

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 51% based on reviews from 86 critics. The site's consensus states: "In spite of its attempts to accurately record Frank McCourt's memoirs, the onscreen adaptation fails to capture any of the drama or humor of his life". On Metacritic the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on reviews from 32 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".

Michael Legge was praised for his portrayal of the adolescent Frank. In particular, he was said to excel in his role as an innocent teenager growing up with typical coming of age rites involving sexuality, maturity and peer pressure in a Catholic Irish setting.

Differences from the book

  • In the book, the opening paragraph describes Angela's upbringing. It tells how Angela's brother Pat became developmentally disabled by being dropped on the ground by Angela's father throwing him in the air, and that Angela's pregnant mother told him to leave, so he "ran out the door and didn't stop till he got to Australia". The film omits this.
  • In the film, when Angela suggests naming Frank's new brother Alphonsus, and Frank exclaims that it's a stupid name, Aggie smacks the back of Frank's head. In the book, Angela slaps Frank across the face so hard he reels backwards.
  • In the film, Frank says that Irish dancers look like they have metal rods up their arses, but in the book it is Frank's father who says that.
  • The end of the film shows Frank sailing past the Statue of Liberty as he arrives in New York City. In the book he lands at Poughkeepsie.

Awards

  • Winner Best Picture – Irish Film and Television Awards
  • Winner Best Costume Design – Irish Film and Television Awards (Consolata Boyle)
  • Winner Best Director – Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Audience Award) (Alan Parker)
  • Winner Best Original Score – Las Vegas Film Critics Society (John Williams)
  • Winner Best Actress – London Film Critics Circle (Emily Watson)
  • Nominee Best Original Score – Academy Awards (John Williams)
  • Nominee Best Original Score – Golden Globes (John Williams)
  • Nominee Best Actress – BAFTA (Emily Watson)
  • Nominee Best Cinematography – BAFTA (Michael Seresin)
  • Nominee Best Production Design – BAFTA (Geoffrey Kirkland)
  • Nominee Best British Film – Empire Awards
  • Nominee Best British Actor – Empire Awards (Robert Carlyle)
  • Nominee Best Actress – Irish Film and Television Awards (Emily Watson)
  • Nominee Best Actor – Irish Film and Television Awards (Robert Carlyle)
  • Nominee Newcomer of Year – London Film Critics Circle Awards (Michael Legge)

Soundtrack

The film soundtrack was composed and conducted by John Williams, and features songs by Billie Holiday and Sinéad O'Connor with narration on tracks 2, 4–15 and 17 by actor Andrew Bennett. Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2000 for his score but lost to The Red Violin, scored by John Corigliano.

Home media

Angela's Ashes was originally released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on VHS and DVD format on 17 July 2000, via Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD set retained the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital 5.1, and included a number of special features, including, a behind-the-scenes featurette, cast and crew interviews, commentaries by Alan Parker and Frank McCourt, and two trailers. This set was again re-issued in 2003 with identical artwork, while the only difference being the redesigning of the BBFC certificate logo, which updated in 2002. A DVD box set release was made available on 8 September 2008, which included the DVD and the original book.

The film was additionally released within multiple sets, including a three-tape VHS set which features the film with Billy Elliot and Stepmom, on 15 September 2003, and a "Back 2 Back" VHS edition with Billy Elliot on 16 February 2004, The set containing the film with Billy Elliot and Stepmom was released once again as part of a "3 Disc Anthology" DVD set on 2 October 2005.

On 31 October 2016, Angela's Ashes received its first-ever Blu-ray release via Final Cut Entertainment. It contains a newly remastered HD transfer, with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, as well as LPMC 2.0 audio. All special features from the previous DVD releases are included, with the inclusion of a new feature, "Alan's Ashes"—an interview with Alan Parker.

In the United States and Canada, the distribution rights are held by Paramount Home Entertainment. Angela's Ashes was first released on VHS format, while the film was released to DVD as part of Paramount's "Widescreen Collection" on 18 July 2000, and contained a non-anamorphic-widescreen letterboxed version. A "Special Edition" VHS was made available on 5 December 2000. The DVD received a re-issue on 20 September 2017.

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