Liam feels more like a well-written novella than a film. Lacking the usual narrative drive from plot point to plot point, it focuses instead on the little moments which define life for the Sullivans in 1930s Liverpool, England. In many ways, it’s the film Angela’s Ashes should have been, a decidedly low-key look at the specifics of the working class slipping inexorably into poverty while trying to hold on to faith and family.
As 7-year-old Liam (Anthony Burrows) prepares for his First Communion, his home life is slowly coming apart at the seams. His usually charming dad (Ian Hart) slides into sullen reproachfulness after losing his job at the shipyard, and finds scapegoats to blame for his situation (even donning a black shirt with the British fascists). His mother (Claire Hackett) becomes more strident and angry as she tries to maintain her pride amid the mounting debts, and turns increasingly to the Catholic Church for a model of suffering. Liam’s older siblings must take on jobs to support the family, Teresa (Megan Burns) as a servant in the home of her father’s former employer, where she becomes enmeshed in their intrigues.
Director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Snapper, High Fidelity) does a superb job of presenting a very precise slice of life here by concentrating on the way each of the Sullivans reacts to their situation: how Teresa maintains her demure composure or Liam tries to combat his almost debilitating stutter.
Noted screenwriter Jimmy McGovern (Priest, the TV series “Cracker”) takes a novelist’s approach to the material, but tosses in an unnecessarily melodramatic ending which leaves a bitter aftertaste. The tragedies in Liam don’t need to be underlined. The strength of the film comes from its straightforward depiction of a family at war with poverty.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Visit the official Liam Web site at liamthemovie.com.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.