Shure, the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.

‘A man who would drink the money for the new baby was beyond the beyonds.’

Fancying a good miserable time for myself on Easter Sunday night, after the chickens had been cooked and eaten and the crème eggs devoured, I put on ANGELA’S ASHES. This is one of the few Irish films I can stomach, as some of the rest of them are just too annoying or, quite frankly, not as good as their English or American counterparts. As I’m Irish myself, I’m allowed to say that, lol.

ANGELA’S ASHES is quite simply one of the best films ever made about the Miserable Irish Catholic Childhood, and fair play to author and school-teacher Frank McCourt (1930-2009) for turning his grim beginnings into a multi-million selling book and movie. Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons. That’s how you do it, Frankie lad, and more power to your elbow.

Anyway, if Frank McCourt is the hero of his own story, then the heroine must surely be his mother Angela, who put up with so much misery and poverty in her lifetime. Married to a feckless drinking man from the North of Ireland called Malachy McCourt (played by Robert Carlyle), her lot is to have and lose baby after baby (because of the high infant mortality rate for the poor of Limerick’s slums in the 1930s and 1940s) and to be barely able to feed the living ones because they have no money.

We first meet the family in America. They’ve emigrated there presumably to make a better life for themselves, but have to return to Angela’s family in Limerick when the Big Apple turns rotten and worm-infested for them. ‘We must have been the only family in living memory to be sailing AWAY from the Statue of Liberty,’ observes Frank the narrator ironically.

Limerick’s slums are already chock-full of desperately poor families. Frank and his brothers get mocked and taunted in school for wearing broken boots patched with the rubber from a bicycle tire. The family’s furniture comes from the St. Vincent De Paul Society, on the condition, seemingly, that they consent to being insulted and publicly demeaned by the members of the committee while queuing up to beg for it.

Dad is permanently out of work and, on the rare occasions when he’s in work, he drinks the wages and then loses the job for turning up late or not at all. Angela refers to him repeatedly as a ‘useless feck,’ and she’s not wrong there. Robert Carlyle’s character makes me so angry.

His sole contribution to the family seems to be getting Angela pregnant repeatedly, filling his sons’ heads with fairy stories he remembers from his childhood and drinking away every penny he ever gets his hands on, coming home pissed and incontinent offering his children ‘a penny to die for Ireland.’ When he conks out one night with his stupid selfish head practically in the piss-bucket on the landing, you can’t help feeling that he’s found his natural milieu.

Oh yes, he’s big on songs about the bould brave Fenian men and he boasts about having fought for Ireland during the War of Independence but, wouldn’t you know it, there’s no record of his ever having done military service so he’s not entitled to any pension.

He just makes me so mad. He has ‘loser’ and ‘sponger’ written all over him. He castigates Angela for going begging to the St. Vincent De Paul people or picking up coal off the street where it’s dropped off the coal-man’s cart (‘Have you no pride, Angela?’), but I don’t see him bringing in a wage for food and clothes for the kids he’s actively helped to create.

It’s almost a relief when he buggers off for good, off down the wet, waterlogged lanes where the McCourts have their tenement-style dwelling, to take the boat to England and never be heard from again, as far as I know. Frankie, played by three different actors in the three stages of his development, is the man of the house now.

We see Frankie in school, on the one hand being subjected to savage physical discipline and, on the other, being introduced to the joys of reading, a love he never loses. We see him going to the Lyric cinema- when he has the price of admission, and sometimes when he hasn’t!- to watch Westerns and old UNIVERSAL horror movies such as THE MUMMY, starring Boris Karloff. ‘He’s sticking his knife into that nice lady’s belly…!’

Frankie makes his First Holy Communion, for which he has to have his badly-behaved, sticky-uppy Protestant hair flattened down by his Granny’s spit, and his Confirmation. He develops typhoid and spends two months in hospital. He gets his first ever job as a coal-man’s apprentice, but has to jack it in because his eyes become super-irritated by the coal dust.

He works for the Post Office as a telegram boy and enjoys as a result his first ever sexual experience with a girl. He’s long since learned the forbidden art of ‘self-abuse,’ even though he knows full well that it makes the Virgin Mary cry.

He works for the local moneylender as a writer of threatening letters- one of the highlights being when he throws her ledger in the ocean- and every penny he makes, he puts into a Post Office Savings Account, otherwise known as his Going To America fund. Yes, that’s right. All wee Frankie McCourt wants to do is get back to the land of promise and plenty some day, where everyone has perfect teeth and a lavatory of their own. Oh joy unconfined, lol.

How can he bear to part with the rain, the misery, the hunger, the grinding poverty and the awful knowledge that his mother has to sexually satisfy her horrible cousin Laman Griffin if she wants to keep a roof over her childrens’ heads? Ah well. It’s a free country. Or maybe not…

There’s a brilliant jaunty soundtrack of ‘Thirties and ‘Forties music, lots of stunning rural scenes to ogle, and the cast is dotted with familiar faces from other Irish films and Irish soap operas, namely the now defunct rural soap GLENROE and on-going urban soap FAIR CITY. It’s like playing ‘Spot the minor Irish celeb…!’ Oh look, it’s your man from… And wasn’t your one in…? And there’s what’s-her-name from that thing, oh, you know the thing I mean, it was on last August Bank Holiday…!

The main person you’ll recognise should be Pauline McGlynn, aka Mrs. Doyle from clerical sitcom FATHER TED, as Frankie’s Aunty Aggie, Angela’s childless older sister. You can tell she has a heart of gold underneath the cranky, crabby exterior. Although, strangely enough, she doesn’t once try to give anyone tea…    

Is It a Good Idea to Write When You Don’t “Feel Like” Writing? – A Writer’s Path — The Reluctant Poet

Is It a Good Idea to Write When You Don’t “Feel Like” Writing? – A Writer’s Path Is It a Good Idea to Write When You Don’t “Feel Like” Writing? – A Writer’s Path

Is It a Good Idea to Write When You Don’t “Feel Like” Writing? – A Writer’s Path — The Reluctant Poet






I didn’t grow up or ever live in Maggie Thatcher’s England, otherwise I mightn’t have bawled so hard at this rather emotional and sentimental depiction of the Iron Lady’s life and times.

Meryl Streep is fabulous, as always, as the woman who went from being a grocer’s daughter to Britain’s longest serving (in the twentieth century) and first ever female Prime Minister.

The story is told partly in flashbacks depicting Mrs. Thatcher’s ascent to power in the Conservative party, and partly in scenes from the ‘present day,’ about eight years after the death of her beloved husband, Denis, beautifully played by that old stalwart of the British screen, Jim Broadbent.

That places the action in 2011, two years before Margaret Thatcher died in 2013. (Did she see this film? It’s not particularly unflattering, but she may have been made uncomfortable at the scenes in which she was depicted as being not in her right mind, or in which her late husband appears.)

The bits from the present are very sad, hence me crying my eyes out for the old lady with dementia who talks to her deceased husband all the time because she’s actually seeing visions of him; it’s as if he never left. In these ‘present day’ clips, she is finally going through Denis’s clothes and other effects with a view to sending them to charity, never an easy thing to do.

This is what her daughter Carol thinks she should do, put away the past and get on with her life. Carol is left with the main care of her mother, though the elderly former Prime Minister has a staff who make sure she’s always ready- suited, pussy-bow-tied, made-up and coiffed- to be wheeled out for yet another appointment, such as another fancy dinner at which her opinions on current affairs are sought, or the unveiling of yet another portrait of her for posterity.

Carol Thatcher is one hundred percent present for her ageing mum, but, typically, it’s the deceased Denis and the absent son Mark, ensconced with his own family on the other side of the world, for whom the old lady pines day and night. What’s that they say? A daughter’s a daughter for all of her life; a son’s just a son till he gets him a wife…

Via the flashbacks, we see the Iron Lady (this very apt nickname came from the Russians) grappling with some of the major issues and incidents from her eleven years in office as the Prime Minister; the Brixton riot in 1981; the Miners’ Strike from 1984-1985; the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party Conference of 1984. Some despicable people obviously found the presence of so many Tories in the one place, including Maggie and Denis, to be just too irresistible.

Then there was the Falklands War in 1982. Men on both sides of the short but bloody conflict died, and poor Prince Andrew sadly lost forever his ability to sweat, but Maggie and her Brits seized those islands back from the pesky Argentinians, giving her the reputation of a leader with balls of steel, though she concealed them handsomely beneath her well-tailored blue skirt suits.

Her heyday was the 1980s. In the film, she is portrayed in the 1990s as something of an anachronism, squabbling with her ministers, in particular Geoffrey Howe, who resigned after one such public bollocking (yes, I could have said ‘dressing-down’ there but saying bollocking instead is keeping it real, man!).

She also insists that poor people should pay as much as rich people pay in the deeply unpopular Poll Tax, a tax for simply existing, as far as I can make out. She has no choice but to step down when she realises she’s lost the support of much of her cabinet for her draconian policies.

Comedy sketch show SPITTING IMAGE did very well out of her, and also out of her successor, the mild-mannered John Major. ‘The peas are good today, Norma.’ But it’s the sketch of Maggie and her cabinet out to dinner on one occasion that I’ll never forget. Maggie orders her meat course, and then the waiter asks her what about the vegetables?

‘They’ll have what I’m having,’ replies the Lady who is not for Turning.







I absolutely love survival horror films like this one. FALL is very similar to one whose name I can’t remember, featuring a cable car stuck up in the mountains after the booking office has closed and the staff have all gone home for the weekend, maybe even the long weekend. And you know the way that the kids in horror films often do the stupidest things, the exact things that will guarantee them both disaster and a short life?

The kids in the cable car movie (it’s on the tip of my tongue; was it called DROP? SNOW? CABLE CAR? MOUNTAIN? FREEZE? ROCK? SWING? CREAK? THREE THICK EEJITS STUCK IN A ROCKING CABLE CAR HALFWAY UP A FUCKIN’ MOUNTAIN AFTER HOURS?) can’t have known that their cable car would turn out to be faulty, so I suppose you can’t really call them stupid, but the two lasses in FALL do the stupidest thing ever while in their right minds, so they deserve every Darwin Award ever awarded to stupid people who improve the human gene pool by killing themselves in ever more idiotic ways. It’s a bit like the rubbish kerbing itself, if you get me.

FALL adheres strictly to a formula, but it’s a formula that still really works. Put your protagonists in a dangerous situation, then just keep turning the screw on the little blighters till they figure a way out for themselves. THE POOL and CRAWL and 47 METERS DOWN all come to mind as examples of fairly recent survival horror films that stick to the formula, but really work well as well.

American gals Becky and Hunter decide to climb a 2,000 ft high tower in the desert so that they can take photos at the top for Hunter’s YouTube channel, for which she carries out dangerous ‘challenges.’

Well, people will always like and subscribe to watch other idiots killing themselves, we know that. They’ll film you while you’re dying, too, but don’t expect them to call 911 because they’re busy trying to film something, goddammit…!

Anyway, Becky doesn’t want to climb the stupid tower. She’d rather stay home and booze it up and mourn the loss of her hubby, Dan, who died this time last year in, yes, you guessed it, a climbing accident also involving Becky and Hunter. (Dan is played by Mason Gooding, the son of Cuba Gooding, Jr.)

Becky doesn’t want to climb stairs, never mind a stupid rickety old tower in the desert, but Hunter, hungry for Likes & Subscribes, manages to persuade her that, if she doesn’t, she’ll be giving in to fear and fear will dominate her for the rest of her life.

Is that what you want, Becky? For fear to be the boss of you your whole freakin’ life? Do you want to be enjoying a quiet evening in and suddenly fear calls round and ruins everything by insisting you cook for him (yep, fear’s a guy!) and give him the best seat on the couch so he can watch his Netflix series, which, by the way, has one-hundred-and-twenty episodes in it and he’s only watched about four to date? Get a grip, Becky!

About thirty-five minutes in to the film, the shit hits the fan. The girls, Wonderbras firmly in place because ‘tits get clicks,’ suddenly find themselves stuck up the tower and in the worst peril of their stupid lives, and all to get clicks and views for ‘Danger D,’ as Hunter calls herself online.

Putting your own and a friend’s life in jeopardy for your viewers’ pleasure and enjoyment is almost criminally wrong. What sort of desperate character does that? Is someone officially looking into it? Seriously…

I’m not really going to give away any more, but the tension is terrific and the girls’ predicament just keeps getting grimmer and grimmer, as the buzzards circle ominously and the gals can’t get a signal for their phones. Well, it can’t be because they’re not up bleedin’ high enough!

There’s the usual trope of a confession needing to be made by one of the parties stuck up 2,000 feet in the ear, and the other party needs to hear it, regardless of what a dodgy and dangerous situation they find themselves in.

One of the girls is estranged from one parent as well, and would really appreciate said parent reading her mind and coming to her rescue right about now. Oh, wouldn’t that be luverly…?

The two female leads are excellent in their roles, although I found it strange that neither of them seemed to be suffering from vertigo and there were virtually no shots of the ground coming sickeningly up to meet them like in Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO. They were standing around as bold as brass, not even holding onto the pole thing and looking down in gut-wrenching terror.

There’s a pretty good plot twist that I did not see coming, and an ever-so-slightly disappointing ending. It’s just a tad confusing, that’s all. Hopefully it won’t ruin your enjoyment of an otherwise cracking little survival horror film. And remember, it’s a survival film, isn’t it, so someone has to, right…?