Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Suffer the children: "Noble"

Cinemas are, one senses, approaching biopic overload (and critics biopic fatigue), so I wish I could report that Noble brought something fresh to the marketplace. Instead, Stephen Bradley's film offers a garbled introduction to the life and good deeds of Christina Noble, the Irishwoman who escaped the institutional poverty she was born into - and a broad range of overbearing patriarchal authority, from a violent father to the Catholic Church - to set up a foundation to give children around the globe a far better start than she herself got. This rushed, meat-and-potatoes retelling stocks its 100 minutes with self-cancelling lumps of incident - Christina's stint behind the counter of a Birmingham chip shop is accorded greater dramatic prominence than her gang rape - and surrounds these with choices and soundtrack cues you could easily guess. The evocation of Noble's childhood on the backstreets of 1940s Dublin has that rained-out Angela's Ashes look; the onset of the Sixties - and the teenage Christina's passage from convent - is marked by a jaunty Beat number; the camera cranes up over the happy ending to the rousing strains of Coldplay.

A cast of familiar Irish faces helps to nudge it along: Liam Cunningham plays the docker da, rather overdoing the table-turning and window-smashing when he comes home from the pub one night; Pauline McLynn and the ever-excellent Eva Birthistle show up among the inevitable nuns. Yet while the younger Christinas - Gloria Cramer Curtis as a gal who sings Doris Day numbers in vaguely Terence Davies-ish pubs, Sarah Greene as her increasingly independent teenage counterpart - Deirdre O'Kane, as Christina the elder, is hamstrung by clunky scripting that obliges the character to continually pour out her hopes, fears and methods to God and anybody else in the vicinity. If you are still keen to learn more about Christina Noble's undeniable accomplishments in this world, an acclaimed documentary - Ciarin Scott's In a House That Ceased To Be - has already done the rounds; Bradley's film, rather too breathless and gabbling in its admiration for its subject, would appear to comprise a very distant Plan B.

Noble opens in selected cinemas from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on Monday. 

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