"Song for a Raggy Boy" is based on the true story of a single teacher's courage to stand up against an untouchable prefect's sadistic disciplinary regime and other abuse in a Catholic Reformatory and Industrial School in 1939 Ireland.
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In 1939 William Franklin, an anti-Franco veteran of the bloody Spanish Civil War, arrives as first-ever lay teacher in a strict Catholic Reformatory and Industrial School for wayward boys. He soon learns the academic challenge is formidable, many boys being still illiterate, but gradually earns their trust, respect, in time almost devotion, with 'paternal' kindness, making the layman the opposite of the cruel prefect, brother John, who frequently administers painful and humiliating punishments, even the gentle, old superior Father Damian has no authority against his disciplinary mandate from the grim bishop Conlon. Slowly even class rebel Liam Mercier is turned around, trough his gift for literature. After Franklin dares stop the sadist's penny-weighted strap severely striking 'sinful scum' for a futility, the whole dorm is treated to an icy night outdoors, arms outstretched wearing only shorts. Brother Mac's mind may mean to educate well, his flesh is too weak for celibacy, so the ... Written by
The catalogue of abuse perpetrated by the clergy in Ireland against the children in their care has long been in the public domain. Tentatively only now is the cinema beginning to address the issue, firstly with Peter Mullan's "The Magdalene Sisters", which wavered between broad comedy and tragedy to disconcerting effect and now with Aisling Walsh's superb "Song for a Raggy Boy", an altogether bleaker affair; indeed at times this is virtually unwatchable so intense is the brutality it depicts.
Aidan Quinn is the first lay-teacher in an Irish reform school run by the Christian Brothers, (hardly an apt term), in the Ireland of 1939. The system of abuse he encounters is so all encompassing that he seems powerless to do anything about it despite winning the approval of the boys. This is a deeply troubling, (and in the end, very moving) film beautifully directed by the young Irish director Aisling Walsh whose lack of technique is all the more unsettling.
It is also superbly played, in particular by the boys, non-professionals all and by Quinn, Iain Glen as the sadistic and evil brother at the centre, Marc Warren as the weak-willed, sexually driven brother, (his is the most emotionally complex character), and by that great and undervalued British actor Dudley Sutton. Flashbacks to Quinn's part in the Spanish Civil War may be ill-judged but this remains a spare, unsettling film which should be mandatory viewing for Catholics everywhere.
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