Borstal Boy Review
By Frank Ochieng
Irish filmmaking has always resonated with an urgent sense of political forethought. Filmmaker Jim Sheridan diligently championed the determined spirit of tortured protagonists in gutsy pictures such as My Left Foot, The Boxer, and In the Name of the Father. In the uplifting Emerald Isle melodrama Borstal Boy, Jim's brother Peter Sheridan effectively explores the trials and tribulations of a 16-year old boy's exploits behind the unbearable confines of a British World War II borstal, a reformatory center for boys, based on charismatic Irish writer Brendan Behan's memoir. Provocative and resoundingly crafty, Borstal Boy is a solid and refined piece of moviemaking imbued with passion and attitude.
Thanks to his heavy involvement in IRA-related activities, the film opens with Brendan (Shawn Hatosy, Anywhere But Here, John Q) in jail in East Anglia, England. Among the prison-camp personalities that the overwhelmed Brendan encounters are a thieving gay sailor named Millwall (Danny Dyer), whom he eventually. He also finds a love interest in the lovely and supportive Liz (Eva Birthistle), who happens to be the daughter of the facility's presiding Governor (Michael York). Consequently, Brendan begins to shape his outlook on life, challenging what was once a rigid belief system entrenched in his conservative shell.
Borstal Boy, gallantly written by Nye Heron and director Sheridan, is masterfully shot courtesy of Ciaran Tanham's active camera, capturing the taut and stylish feel of the film. Hatosy adds a touch of mischievousness and scruffy bewilderment as the soul-searching, stuttering rogue. And especially memorable is Dyer's gay sailor with whom Brendan finds an attraction: gently funny, complex, and ambiguously disturbing.
The recurring theme, appropriately so, suggests that Brendan Behan may be the contemporary of another tortured creative homosexual Irish icon--the legendary Oscar Wilde. Refreshingly stark in its cavorting homoeroticism, Borstal Boy is a stimulating tale that recalls the adventurous antics of an Irish literary figurehead who engaged in a colorful and carousing existence during tremendous, trying times.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 8th December 2000
Distributed by: Strand Releasing
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Fresh: 15 Rotten: 18
Cast & Crew