When I checked this film on IMDB, I was surprised. Not by the popular rating, 6.7 out 10 is a good mark but by the number of votes. Only, 368 votes! How can such a good movie by largely ignored by the public?
Peter Mullan in the world of British cinema is especially known as an actor. We remember his performance in the trendy "Trainspotting" (1996) where he acted the role of a heroin supplier. With "Orphans", he decided to display his gifts as a director. He chose wisely. His real debut movie is, by any standards a remarkable one. However I am obliged to recognize that for his first direction, the place of the action which the city of Glasgow in Scotland has nothing welcoming. Indeed, most of its inhabitants are narrow-minded or unpleasant. I read a few reviews about Mullan's film and all of them had said that Glasgow's inhabitants are really like this. If it is true, truth is stranger than fiction.
But also Mullan for his first directing chose a tough topic: what can be the childrens' reactions following the death of their mother? To answer this question, the filmmaker divided his movie in 4 individual parts. Each one focuses on one of the 4 main characters. Thus, we can say the following answer to the quoted question: either with violence (John, the college boy who tries to prove himself as a hard man) either with obstinacy (Thomas, the holier-than-thou chief mourner who wants everything to be perfect for their mother's funeral). As for the two others, Michael and Sheila, they feel especially lost. What Mullan tries to reveal to the spectator is that these reactions are necessary because this painful hardship represents for them the definitive transition in adulthood and maturity. The very last sequence shows the three brothers and the disabled sister together and they seem more united.
"Orphans" is a movie that swings between humor and poignancy, violence and calm with ease. Moreover, the moment when the roof of the church is torn off by the wind gives the film a little surrealist air. In short, it easily ranks among the best British movies of the nineties and it deserves to be better known. At last, given the success of "the Magdalene sisters" in 2003, Peter Mullan is well away to become one of the finest British directors of these last years.
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