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I was surprised to see so many negative comments, mainly from the U.S This is an utterly engrossing film, not a minute of it's content is superfluous and I was engrossed throughout the whole 90 minutes. The acting was superb from all and Liam will break your heart! the plot may have been a little far-fetched, but everything else was absolutely spot on,the religious aspect in particular sent chills through me, it was so real believe me!. This is another wonderful piece from Jimmy McGovern and I recommend it whole heartedly.
British filmmakers can and very often do lampoon their country's class
system and its internecine struggles, amusing and entertaining us. Or they
can, as in "Liam," starkly and powerfully bring to the screen a slice of
1930s, Depression-struck Liverpool and through a family show in microcosm
the near self-destruction of a society (thank goodness for World War
England then (and now) is largely populated in working class industrial areas by Irish immigrants or their first-generation offspring. An uneasy peace between native-born working class families and Irish immigrants periodically erupts into dissension when times are bad. They were very bad in the early Thirties when a doctrine-bound Catholic church struggled to maintain a spiritual hold on dissatisfied and nearly penniless parishioners while Sir Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists took to the street offering a secular religion of bigotry and violence.
"Liam" is a little boy by that name who suffers from an inability to get words out when questioned or pressed but who can speak clearly in a sing-song voice when alone or at ease. He adores his older sister, Teresa, and basks in her returned love. "Dad" and "Mum" aren't given names, an effect that creates a sense of "Everyman(woman)". Dad is a proud laborer, at first suspicious of the church and latterly angry at its exactions of the small amount of money unemployed and underpaid workers have. Mom is just what you'd expect - an equally proud but pragmatic woman who strives every waking minute to manage her family. A son who leans far to the left politically is the constant irritant to dad's pride of place and certainty of values.
Dad loses his job and Teresa goes to work as a maid for the man who closed the factory where dad worked. Actually she is hired by his wife. At first unsuspectingly and then unwillingly she becomes a confidant and accomplice of the adulteress woman of the house. As we would say today, Teresa has "issues."
Meanwhile, back at the church and elementary school Liam and the children are besieged by priest and female teacher with an endless stream of horror stories about hell and exaltations to embrace doctrine unquestioningly. The strap is never out of employment for long. Not for a second do the older pair reveal the slightest comprehension of the brewing economic and social storm that the children face day in and day out.
Anti-Semitism has never been in short supply in England and in the 1930s its worst manifestations, fueled by the growing Nazi and Fascist movements, were acted out. Dad develops from a relatively benign reflexive anti-Semitism to full-fledged Jew hatred. Director Stephen Frears risked but avoided stereotyping by making his Jewish landlord, Jewish pawnbroker and affluent Jewish family hated simply because of who they were rather than by any grotesque manipulation of what they did in Liverpool. While several reviewers decry that the characters who were viewed as oppressors are all Jews, the reality is that this was one instance when both Irish Catholics and threatened by competition and unemployment English did unite against the visible and unfairly blamed Jews of Liverpool.
The cast is largely unknown here but their acting is superb. Anthony Borrows as Liam can't be overlooked. This little boy lives his complex role. I was drawn into their circle by the strength of the acting. Dad's family slides into a brush with true poverty realistically. Their pain and enveloping helplessness escapes the screen.
This film isn't anti-Catholic. It chronicles a church some few remember that did what it was trained to do, leaving for future generations the demand for reform and insight into the realities of family and community life. As obtuse as the priest and school teacher are, they probably imbued enough people with an unquestioning belief in the church to keep them immune from the blandishments of radicals on the left and fascists on the right. That's no small accomplishment.
When little Liam's father loses his job during the Depression, the
family struggles to hold things together. As the world around them
comes apart, we see how everyone in the family deals with the stress in
their own way. Liam's dad joins the fascists, his brother attends
secret meetings of the socialists, his sister goes to work as a
housekeeper for a wealthy Jewish family, and Liam searches for answers
in Catholicism, under the strict guidance of his haggard mum, his
teacher, and the local priest.
As life becomes increasing more insecure, people begin to turn more desperately to their own belief system for answers. Religious, ideological, class and family ties all compete for primacy. We see Protestant versus Catholic, gentile versus Jew, fascist versus socialist, neighbor versus neighbor and father versus son. Unfortunately, life is not so simple as that, and each family member finds themselves torn between their loyalty to their loved ones, and their own pride and perception of righteousness. The tragic climax leaves no doubt as to the director's own perspective.
The young actor who plays Liam is perfectly cast as an innocent child forced to deal with the harsh realities of life. Although reminiscent of some recent films, this one is more raw than "Life is Beautiful" and more genuine than "Billy Elliot." This is not a movie for anyone who is merely seeking an escape, as it demands an intellectual commitment from the viewer. And while it makes some profound points beautifully, it ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers.
I thought it was a very moving film, really got the viewer involved. Showed understanding and made you feel apart. It has it's good sense of humour, seriousness and reality. The characters were brilliant,I especially enjoyed the little boy who played Liam, (Antony Burrows) and I thought the Jewish Family (The Samuel's) were very good in particular. My favourite and best part of the film, I have to say was at the end, when the daughter at the Jewish House, Jane Samuels (Gema Loveday) takes on her dramatic scene. Overall, I highly recommend 'Liam' and congratulate all those which took part, thank you.
Move a Dickens story up into the time of the Depression. Add elements
of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." Add the blackshirt Fascists from
"1900." Add a little boy whose father and brother are involved in
desperate economic problems complete with unions and favoritism, as in
Make it very dark, and very drear. Let the camera see drearily, smokily, darkly, unclearly.
Let the characters speak in their own, natural way, without regard to an American audience having difficulty understanding them.
This is "Liam." It is an indictment of religion, the undeniable caste system of the UK, and of government in general. It is a film that was difficult to watch, although never did I say anything like "this is bad." It was just difficult to watch.
Everything rang true, and it was heartbreaking, with a few uplifting moments...but very few. This is an excellent film, a very well-acted film, well-directed and with an excellent screenplay. But difficult to watch, in spots.
It is surprising to read some of the reviews obviously from the young and
wealthy. Life, even 50 years ago, was like this in the north of England. A
Hovis advert maybe but a totally brilliant film, beautifully observed,
all the settings and trimmings of the era.
How many others can remember this kind of school, the hard life in the home, the metal bath - usually in front of the fire. The film was faultless. The children superb and the adults just as I remembered them. 10 out of 10
Having seen the (in my opinion excellent) "Dirty Pretty Things" before,
I knew pretty well what to expect from Stephen Frears. I expected to
see a socially engaged drama and that's exactly what I got. This time
however, the movie is situated during the time of the Depression and
not at the present day. But being very interested in that time period,
that was just another fine reason to watch this movie.
It tells the story of two young children in Liverpool during the Depression, called Liam and Teresa. When their dad loses his job at the ship yard, their family is facing very difficult times. Blaming the cheap Irish labor and the rich Jewish owners, their dad joins the fascists. In the mean time Liam is about to make his first Holy Communion, which makes it even more difficult for the poor family, because it will cost them too much money on new clothes. Their father, too proud and stubborn to ask for help, hating the church for their immoral behavior (monthly asking for more money, while they already have so much and the family hasn't got anything left) and hating all people who aren't 'English' he decides to go for drastic measures. But just as his hatred reaches its top, it will all explode into his own face...
When you aren't able to face criticism on the Catholic church, you better don't even think about watching this movie. You'll find plenty of it from the beginning until the end and I know that not too many people like that or are able to cope with it, believing that it is not true or perhaps exaggerated. But it has to be said that it isn't wrong. Despite what many of you might believe, this was really the way how it all went at that time (My mother told me several times that even in the fifties and sixties this was still common practice). However, when you are able to cope with that anti-religious 'fanatism', you'll see that this is a very good and relevant social drama. The story does a very good job in showing the poverty, the rise of fascism, the desperation and the tough grip that the Catholic church had on the ordinary man and woman. Of course, this story would have been nothing if it hadn't been supported by a fine cast. Especially the young Anthony Borrows did a very nice job, but the other actors like Ian Hart, Claire Hackett, Megan Burns,... sure deserve to be mentioned as well.
Overall this is a very nice movie with a very good story, some fine acting and a sober, but powerful message. I really liked what I saw and I consider this as the second hit for Stephen Frears. I give it a 7.5/10.
While the character young actor, Anthony Borrows, plays in this movie is
apparently seven years old, Borrows himself seems to be no older than five
or six. That's what--kindergarten age? As in "Ponette", I can hardly
believe that these youngsters are "acting". I can't "catch" them acting!
They are completely believable and their hearts and minds flash in
fully-translated expression across their faces.
Even animals in movies show their training. These child-actors do not!
You should consider seeing this movie, if only to witness the amazing performance given by young Borrows!
I found this a very well-rounded film. Fabulous performances given by all and in particular the young boy playing Liam. Not overly indulged with the writers opinions and not given so much information that the audience couldn't think for themselves. Nice visual touches and only 90 minutes long!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Some slight spoilers...read at your own risk!
My mother called this movie depressing, but I call it the truth. Follow the daily routines of a poor, 5-year-old boy and you won't see any glamour or come away with a fuzzy feeling.
What you will get is a true representation of English history. Your eyes are widened by the stark realities that play out before you. But you will feel better for knowing the struggles that people faced then, and feel thankful for what you have now.
If you have some time to sit and contemplate life, this is a perfect companion.
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